Mystery writer Barbara Michaels (real name: Barbara Mertz) is not as well known as other authors such as Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, but she has always been one of my all-time favorite people to read. Maybe it’s because some of her books are set in areas that I recognize, such as D.C., Loudoun County, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Fairfax County.
But I’ve always liked her characters as well. I can relate to characters in books such as House of Many Shadows and Shattered Silk because those characters are likeable, often wry, and funny. Some of her female characters start out as timid but get bolder as the book progresses, since they’re in situations where they need to speak up.
House of Many Shadows features Meg Rittenhouse, a New York secretary recovering from a traffic accident that causes her to have visual and auditory hallucinations. Since Meg can’t do office work, she appeals to her elderly cousin Sylvia, who tosses her a lifeline by giving her the chance to recuperate at an old house in the Pennsylvania countryside. Meg’s childhood nemesis, Andy Brenner, is the house’s current caretaker. When Meg starts witnessing supernatural incidents, she dismisses them as the aftereffects of her accident…until Andy says that he sees them, too.
Shattered Silk is the story of Karen Nevitt, who decides to start a vintage clothing boutique while recovering from a divorce. Unwittingly, she receives a clue to a Georgetown murder and learns that someone is willing to kill to preserve a murderer’s secret.
Shattered Silk is #2 in the Georgetown trilogy of Barbara Michaels. The first novel is Ammie, Come Home and the third is Stitches In Time. By the time that Karen appears in Stitches In Time, she is a much more forceful and outspoken character, compared to her former mealymouthed self. Karen renames herself Kara and marries her college sweetheart, Mark.
Rachel, the main character in Stitches In Time, is a college student working for Kara in the vintage clothing boutique. Rachel’s character also has to develop to cope with supernatural situations. Most of this book is set around the Christmas season, so I usually end up dipping into it around then.
Plus, characters Ruth and Pat McDougal appear in all three novels of the Georgetown trilogy. I love Pat McDougal and his mom Mrs. Mac; they are hilarious and wise characters.
Barbara Michaels was very interested in Egyptology and also wrote under the name Elizabeth Peters. Books under this name feature archaeologist Amelia Peabody, art history professor Vicky Bliss and mystery-solving librarian Jacqueline Kirby.
I’ve read that Barbara Michaels’ books are like peanuts; start one and you just can’t stop. Sadly, I have to report that Barbara Michaels passed away from cancer at age 85 on August 8, so this post is a mini-tribute to her for all the entertainment she’s given me over the years.
Her official website says that she wrote this line prior to her death: “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (a.k.a. Barbara Michaels) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.” Now that’s a woman who had style. R.I.P., Barbara. And thank you.