I'm sure I've said this before that Barbara Michaels is one of my dependably good go-to authors when I am in need of a reliable and entertaining comfort read. Sadly she passed away a few years ago, but she kindly left behind a very prolific output of novels, mysteries, romantic suspense stories and even some nonfiction. She wasn't actually on my list of potential RIP reads, but she fits in quite nicely. I think we can file The Crying Child under the category of RIP-lite. The story is nicely atmospheric with its fog-shrouded island setting and it turned out to be a suspenseful ghost story. My first of the season.
"Look at the way the fog gathers, there beyond the stones. You can see how ghost stories begin, when you watch fog; that patch over there is the right size and shape, and the way it moves with the breeze almost suggests--"
The Crying Child has lots of things I like. It is set off the coast of Maine on a island. Jo, short for Joanne, is the story's heroine and is very likeable showing just the right amount of independence and moxie (the story is set sometime in the mid-1970s but no worries as there are no descriptions of bell-bottom jeans or hippies that might date the story) without being too overly perfect. A pregnant sister who's under stress and hearing the sounds of a crying child where there are no children. There's a cemetery with a gravestone (always toppling over no matter who sets it to rights or how many times) on the outer perimeter. A spectral woman only Jo seems to see. And an island doctor with whom Jo butts heads and maddeningly finds herself attracted to. Even the cover of the book is inviting and creates a nice mental picture.
There's a reason Jo has moved to San Francisco where she works as an underpaid staffer at an ad agency. Her sister Mary has married into a wealthy old New England family, and she and her husband Ran would like nothing better but to find some job close by for Jo. As a matter of fact Ran has offered to create any job she would like, but Jo sees it only as a way for them to keep her safe and in their pocket. Mary and Ran have settled in an old family home on a picturesque island where Mary can finish out her pregnancy in peace and quiet. She has miscarried several times and is cautiously hoping this time it will be a success. But when Ran calls asking Jo to come visit and reassure Mary, whose nerves are verging on frazzled over the sounds of a crying child, she takes the first flight she can.
It's not Ran, however, who meets her flight, but a weather-beaten, rather towering doctor with the most taciturn expression. It belies his easy-going manner, however. When an unexpected smile breaks out Jo suddenly finds herself reconsidering him. Later, when she visits his rustic, very comfortable house (overrun with cats, particularly Maine Coon cats) she finds herself more and more smitten by him. (But I digress). Will is skeptical of the entire situation and doubts Mary's claims that she hears a child crying and later Jo's anxieties about a ghostly woman, who seems to "form her body out of the shadows themselves".
"I thought at first that her absolute stillness was her most terrifying attribute. It was horrible because it violated the normal categories of experience. No statue could counterfeit life so expertly; no living thing should be so still. There is some movement, however slight, in any living creature--the lift of breast, the beat of pulse in the throat. No pulse, no breathe moved the creature that stood before me."
Cue eerie music, dark skies, a rustling of leaves on the tress from a faint breeze. So, Mary is hearing a crying child and then Jo begins hearing it too. Just the breeze catching the trees in the right way? Maybe so until Jo sees this spectral woman who does not seem to breathe. Ran doesn't quite know what to do to help. Will isn't entirely convinced and Mary won't leave the island or see a psychiatrist. So Ran plots, with the help of Will, to bring help to Mary in the form of a female doctor who pretends to be Will's sister.
Best intentions and all that. You know how it turns out when you bring in an outsider to meddle in family affairs. Things sometimes go disastrously wrong.
You could easily pick up The Crying Child and read it over a nice crisp autumn weekend. Maybe a glass of cider in hand. Within reach of my computer, as I sit typing, there are two books by Mary Stewart and another by Barbara Michaels. So tempting. I am, however, feeling the call of Agatha Christie, so I might add her to the RIP mix. Otherwise I will be spending time with Kate Riordan's (also ghostly) The Girl in the Photograph and Shuichi Yoshida's Villain. It is going to be a RIP-reading kind of week