Earlier this week I confessed to my love of cozy mysteries. One of my absolute favorite authors of this genre is Barbara Michaels. (Her real name is Barbara Mertz but she also writes under another pseudonym, Elizabeth Peters.) Peters tends towards the historically set, more in-depth mysteries set purely in the human realm. She’s probably most well-known for her Amelia Peabody, female Egyptologist, series. Michaels always has a touch of the Gothic and supernatural in her stories. The writing isn’t as sophisticated as the Peters books but they are delightful little mysteries all the same. Under her own name she published several non-fiction books. Ms. Mertz passed away in 2013. I mourn the loss of all the books she won’t have a chance to write. But she was quite prolific, with more than 65 titles under her belt, so there is plenty for me to read and re-read for years to come.
This series follows a couple of characters throughout several years with each taking turns acting as main and supporting characters. The stories can be read independently but it’s most fun to read them in order and watch the relationships progress and shift over the years.
In the first book, Ammie Come Home, we meet Ruth, a middle-aged heroine living in Georgetown with a visiting niece, Sara. She ropes herself into hosting a séance at her hundreds-year-old home. But things take a dark turn when a presence settles on Sara during the event and refuses to let go. It’s up to Ruth and Pat (Sara’s professor and eventual love interest for Ruth) and Sara’s boyfriend Bruce to figure out what the ghost wants to bring peace back to the home and its inhabitants.
The second volume, Shattered Silk, also takes place in Georgetown. This time we meet Sara’s younger sister, Karen who is in the middle of a nasty breakup. She’s house-sitting for Pat and Ruth and basically wallowing in self-pity and derision. After a few encounters with an old flame and a mean girl from her past (and with the help of Pat’s eccentric mother) she learns to stand on her feet again and decides to open a vintage clothing store. This is more of a straight-forward mystery. No supernatural encounters.
The final installment, Stitches in Time, published in 1998, is probably my favorite of the three. Here we meet Rachel, a grad student who is struggling to find a topic for her thesis and winds up working at Karen’s vintage clothing store. When a bag of old quilts shows up on the doorstep the family gets caught up in a possible theft/murder while trying to figure out who the rightful owner is. Meanwhile Rachel is drawn to a wedding quilt from the collection that seems to have a dark story to tell. When she begins to see and do things not of her own accord she enlists the help of Pat and Ruth to uncover the history of witchcraft and betrayal literally sewn into the seams of the quilt and bring closure to its former owners.
This first book was published back in the late 60s so there are a few things that will date it a bit (feminist quirks and old-fashioned attitudes of the men being most predominant). The second wasn’t published until the mid 80s so we’re still a tad dated but our feminist sensibilities are a little more on track for this one (once Karen kicks the no-good husband to the curb). The final installment, published in the late 90s, is obviously the most modern of the three. In each we’ve got a female protagonist coming into her own with the help of an unlikely but strong support system, yet the ways and means are a little bolder in each successive story. If you’re not too hung up on that sort of thing you’ll not have any issues as the stories themselves hold up quite well. Grab a cup of tea or cocoa, curl up in front of a fire and enjoy some spooky chills while you read these light, gothic-flavored tales. And you should absolutely check out some/any of her other books and let me know what you think!