Forced into marriage to the elegant, saturnine Baron Clare, Lucy Cartwright, a young and beautiful heiress, is taken by him to Greygallows, his forbidding Yorkshire estate.
There, she finds herself virtually kept prisoner as Baron Clare’s behaviour alternates between gallantry and brutality…
Confused and bewildered, Lucy is helpless in a hostile world of mounting threat and terror as she gradually discovers the dreadful meaning of the curse of the Clares…
‘Opens the floodgates between suspense and terror.’
Barbara Michaels‘ unique blend of romance and mystery has gained her acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most exciting novelists in the Gothic tradition.
Greygallows tells the tale of Lucy Cartwright, born in 1826, a full half century before the Married Women’s Property Act. Lucy is seventeen, orphaned and rich – her fortune and future under the control of a fat old Aunt and a crusty solicitor. Now she is of age they want to marry her off as quickly as they can. So Lucy leaves the relative comfort of the orphanage where she was brought up and is taken to London to find a Suitable Match. Enter Baron Clare, a not so wealthy aristocrat with a past who owns a vast stately home in Yorkshire called Greygallows. I think you can guess the rest.
Sometimes you just need to be in the right mood for the right book and this one didn’t work for me. I’ve read a couple of Barbara Michaels’ books and remember really liking them. So what was the problem with Greygallows? Well, there are a few traits I find absolutely unforgivable in my gothic heroines, one not least being a fear of horses – which is probably why I’ve never made it much past page 106 of this book. But not only is Lucy guilty of being ungothically bereft of equestrian skills, she is also unconvincing as a character.
I am sure the author knows her stuff, perhaps teenage girls in ye olden days really were a bunch of spineless molly puppets – but, considering what they had to deal with, I suspect they were far tougher than a lot of modern writers give them credit for.
Lucy starts out as a spirited, spoilt seventeen year old who enjoys practical jokes and almost manages to elope with her music teacher. Then, a few months and a couple of chapters later, she undergoes a complete personality transplant and you’d think you were reading about a staid old maid of fifty five. True, she did catch a rather nasty case of typhoid just before her wedding but I found the total switch in character unconvincing and unnecessary.
The villains are pretty weak too – as if Michaels couldn’t quite make up her mind to make them proper bad. Sure, Baron Clare wasn’t beneath scaring the horses and plying his wife with Laudanum once in a while but murder? No – that was an act reserved for the sexy vicar. (At least I think it was… I must confess I switched off a bit toward the end).
Greygallows reinforces many of the prejudices I hold against modern historical romances. Writers like Rona Randall and Victoria Holt do this kind of thing very, very well, but, if you’re in the mood for a bit of yesteryear, far better to read the classics of the period methinks.
As far as the cover art goes, gothics published in the UK don’t usually measure up to their American counterparts, though I really like the design of this Pan edition. (Alas, no amount of photoshopping will pretty up my battered copy). Two out of five stars.