Ashes to Ashes, by Lillian Stewart Carl

>> Friday, May 28, 2004

I'm always looking for authors similar to those written by one of my favourites authors, Barbara Michaels. In the past, I've been recommended books by Susannah Kearsley and Barbara Erskine. The latest rec was for Lillian Stewart Carl. To give me a taste of her writing, I orderedAshes to Ashes, the first in a series of 3 related books.

Historian Rebecca Reid comes from Missouri to a replica of a Scottish castle located outside a small town in Ohio. She's cataloging a collection of historical artifacts, among them, supposedly, a scandalous letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots. But her co-worker, Scottish historian Michael Campbell, has his own plans. And the ghosts of the past, not to mention a very contemporary antagonist, want them both gone.

LSC: This book was inspired by the actual castle in Scotland, Craigievar. When I visited there again, right before the book was published, I found a young Oklahoman named Rebecca acting as tour guide. She's probably wondering to this day why I kept staring at her.
Ashes to Ashes barely escaped getting a C-range grade from me. I was generous and gave it a B-.

It was actually a bit weird. Both the plot and the characters were very enjoyable to me, but my problem was that actually reading the book was hard going. I've no idea why. I mean, I can't identify any problems with the writing style that might have slowed me down, but there must have been something! It took me about 4 days to finish this, and one and a half of these days were a weekend!

What I liked best here was the plot, the way it was soon obvious to Rebecca and Mike that there's supernatural stuff going on in the castle and how they accept it and start investigating. But even this wasn't perfect. Maybe Barbara Michaels has spoilt me, with her characters who take an almost scientific approach to the supernatural, but I thought these two jumped to conclusions much too quickly. Ghostly footsteps? Oh, that must be James. No other possibilities are explored. They immediately decide it's James, and proceed accordingly. Michaels' characters would have had a long discussion about how they can't assume anything, and they agree to a working hypothesis that it is James ;-)

Anyway, apart from these niggles, it was ok, and the solution was nicely intrincate. Complicated enough to make it interesting, but not so much as to make it incomprehensible.

The characters were nicely drawn, too, and I especially appreciated that the heroine was allowed to feel sexual desire for someone other than the guy who ended up being the hero. Most of the secondary cast was well done, especially Dorothy, one of the characters who've repulsed me the most lately. Just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess.

So, not too good, but promising. I'll be ordering the next 2 books in the series.


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