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Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels
Another haunted house story. I wonder how many variations an author can find on this theme. Somehow they are all the same: something evil has happened in the past, some dead people can't pass on and haunt the present occupants. They delve into the house's history, find out who the ghost is and discover a way to get rid of it.
What did Barbara Michaels add to make this one special? Perhaps the way the people discussed the possible explanations of the ghostly manifestations. When a girl appears to become possessed, someone believes she may be suffering from multiple personality disorder, and later on they all wonder if perhaps all of it is some hoax.

Ruth is the main protagonist, a forty-something widow. Next we have her niece, Sara, a college student. Bruce is Sara's boyfriend and Pat is her professor who shows an interest in Ruth. Sara started living with Ruth a few months ago in the house Ruth recently inherited from a distant aunt. Both of them hear someone calling in the night "Ammie, come home", but they think it's just a missing dog named Sammie. The trouble really begins after Ruth invites people over and they hold a seance, just for fun.

I've seen the TV-movie "The house that wouldn't die" (1970) a long time ago, and it was nice to visualize Barbara Stanwyck, who I admire a lot, as Ruth. So it wasn't hard to sympathize with Ruth.
I thought Barbara Michaels usually wrote about feministic women, but in this case she surely didn't. As soon as the first ghostly visitation occurred, the men took over. Ruth and Sara were only good enough to do some secretarial work and see that the coffeepot remained filled, and they never rebelled.

One of my pet peeves turned up: I hate it when authors use different languages and make grammar errors. “‘Ich hatte eine Kameraden,’” he quoted. This should have been "einen". I always start wondering what else the author did wrong, but which I'm not aware of.

For old time's sake I've also watched the TV-movie again. I remembered it well so it must have impressed me when I saw it in my teens. Now I felt nothing. Probably I've seen too many better films in the meantime. And I think the same goes for books: I've had my fill of haunted houses. I've also decided to give up on Barbara Michaels. I suppose this one was well done, I just didn't like it very much. As I'm not fond of ghost stories, I'm not the right person to write a valid review and I shan't give a verdict.
I liked it. The spooky atmosphere worked for me. I first read the Reader's Digest Condensed Book version, which has a better pace. (I like Mary Stewart a lot better condensed, as well) The movie was not great, and the title was awful. "The House that Wouldn't Die", what crap. The characters turn up years later in a few of her other novels. I'm thinking "Shattered Silk" and "Stitches in Time", but don't hold me to it. Smile I like her early work (Ammie Come Home and House of Many Shadows) a lot more than her later stuff (The Dancing Floor). And I like most of what she writes as Elizabeth Peters, just not the Amelia Peabody series.
I have a review of Ammie, Come Home on my blog, The Midnight Room, the first of three pieces about Barbara Michaels' occult trilogy (along with Prince of Darkness and The Dark on the Other Side).
I just finished this book and enjoyed it. My only previous experience reading Barbara Michaels was Houses of Stone, which I disliked intensely, and did not finish.

It appears (at least from these two books) that the characters in Barbara Michaels' books tend to bicker a lot. The bickering is of a petty, egotistical nature and creates an unpleasant, irritating mood; it may serve to reveal character but it does not, in my opinion, advance the plot in any way. In Houses of Stone I found myself so bored with the characters that I simply threw the book aside. The characters were such terrible self-absorbed creatures that I had absolutely no interest in their plight and I just wished them all to hell.

In Ammie, Come Home, the characters do bicker (the two male alphas), but at least this adversarial relationship mirrors an important conflict in the story, and this mirroring is handled with subtlety.

Ammie, Come Home is a fine example of a character-driven ghost story, though I would call it a borderline "Gothic" if at all. Granted the story takes place in a historic old home in Georgetown, replete with a revolutionary war legend and rooms with cold spots. But the mood isn't what I would call gothic; it feels very contemporary even if set in the late 1960s (and rather dated now), and the tone is too chatty for the gothic atmosphere to ever really settle. Michaels' books seem to be very busy, and there isn't much calm between thunderclaps to reflect, brood, and gnaw one's nails about when the next one is coming. Being character-driven the book contains a lot more dialogue than the standard gothic, though there is certainly adequate description of the setting. On the other hand, the house itself is definitely a character in the story, one of the traits of a gothic. And Michaels does a very good job helping the reader to see the story, as if watching a movie.

Based on how much I liked this book, I would like to read more Michaels/Peters/Mertz books, but having been prejudiced by my unpleasant experience with Houses of Stone, I'm not sure where to go next. Any recommendations?
Probably the closest thing to Gothic after Ammie, Come Home would be House of Many Shadows, although it's also more of a ghost story than a Gothic. Mostly she writes the Mary Stewart / Phyllis A. Whitney type of romantic suspense. She also tends to parody mainstream romance, the Vicky Bliss and Jacqueline Kirby novels are examples of this, and some (Legend in Green Velvet, The Camelot Caper) are romantic comedy. I wonder if Houses of Stone was meant as a Gothic parody and just doesn't work.
(01-15-2012, 04:38 PM)Penfeather Wrote: Based on how much I liked this book, I would like to read more Michaels/Peters/Mertz books, but having been prejudiced by my unpleasant experience with Houses of Stone, I'm not sure where to go next. Any recommendations?

Try the more historical ones, like Master of Blacktower. It has more of that gothic formula. I was not too impressed with it, but I think most people liked it. I preferred The Wizard's Daughter, but it seemed a bit far-fetched. Sons of the Wolf is written in diary form and is a bit different.

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