Mistress of Rossmor
In the beginning, I had high hopes for Mistress of Rossmor. The author’s writing style is nice, her words flow easily onto the page and include some vivid imagery. The story itself was intriguing and my interest was engaged. But then events began to plod along with a pace that seemed to slow as I turned each page. The climax was wrapped up at lightning speed, leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions. Add to that a hero I never got to know or care about, and a paranormal subplot that fizzled, and I found my initial hopes fizzled, too.
Child-of-privilege Miss Grace Templar has been reduced by circumstance to being a paid governess and companion to a truly stereotypical mean-and-insensitive American woman of wealth and her spoiled daughter. Due to a lack of references (she was accused of stealing from her former employer), Grace has to tough it out. Mrs. Bingley and her daughter Liza are in Rome during the long, hot summer in the hopes of landing a wealthy vacationing nobleman. Grace, who has wanted to travel the world, accepts the fact that in order to see Rome and Egypt, the insufferable Bingleys are the price she must pay.
Alistair McLean is also in Rome. A man of science, he is there to attend a seminar, and to see if he can locate an individual with paranormal abilities for his own purposes. While investigating some ruins, he happens upon Grace, who has just had a terrifying vision of the past. She collapses and he takes her to his hotel. He knows she saw something, even though she denies it. Alistair believes he has found exactly the person he is looking for; now, how does he persuade her to come home with him to Rossmor – to haunted, enigmatic Rossmor?
A day in the country ends in catastrophe when Alistair and Grace are forced to spend the night together in an abandoned ruin. The next morning, Alistair tries to convince Grace they must wed in order to save her reputation. But Grace resists. Alistair then pulls out the big guns – Ah, what about his reputation then, and his young daughter back home in Rossmor who is in desperate need of a mother? Grace considers her options, then capitulates, hoping she and Alistair will someday grow fond of each other. Thinking she had agreed to an in-name-only marriage, Grace is shocked when she discovers Alistair wants to have sex with her on their wedding night. But she is passionate by nature, and soon enough, she is ready for the real deal and Grace and Alistair have lots of satisfying sex. This set-up took half the book when what I really wanted was for them to get on with it and get back to Rossmor where all the interesting stuff was supposed to happen.
Once at Rossmor, Grace has more visions, one of whom is the Gray Lady, a “ghost” many have seen. You know, as a little aside here, one of the things I always loved about Star Trek was that, when a crew member said something like, “Captain, I’ve just seen a purple, five-headed octopus tap dancing in the Jeffries tube!” the captain never said, “You must be seeing things, lieutenant!” Never. When somebody on Star Trek made even the most outlandish claim, he or she was believed, immediately and unequivocally. “How long ago, lieutenant? Mr. Sulu, alert all hands . . . .” Yet, each time Grace makes a claim to Alistair that she has seen or sensed something, he convinces her it was an illusion or a dream; he consistently questions her. I mean, I thought the reason he brought Grace to Rossmor in the first place was to sense the ghosts and look for the truth. This was perplexing and irritating. And, to take her mind off her nerves, he initiates sex with her. He ignores her pretty much during the day, but at night, he becomes Passion Man.
Many strings are left untied after the hasty culmination of the story. This was unsatisfying since I’d waited the whole book for the big séance and then, poof, it was a done deal. The story takes place during a time when séances and curiosity about the afterlife were becoming a hugely popular source of entertainment and serious study, yet this story doesn’t go there. Then too, a character’s ultimate fate is never adequately explained. Scenes that should have been expanded were abrupt, and every person in the book has a point-of-view (POV). If you are a reader who doesn’t like POV changes with each new paragraph, this book will bother you. The author did a pretty good job of making it clear whose head we were in, still, such POV shifts detracted enormously from the tension of a scene.
The one character whose POV we should have been in more often was Alistair’s. At the end of the book, I didn’t feel I knew him any better than I had at the beginning. I was told he was handsome, but I never “saw” it. I was told he was kind, but he was controlling and determined, at any cost, to get his way. He betrayed Grace in several ways and I was not satisfied with her acceptance of this behavior since it was done after the fact and the reader is told, not shown, how she came to grips with what he had done. Though this book has a gothic sensibility, it isn’t carried through; had the author shared no one’s POV but Grace’s, this might have worked, but everyone’s POV is shared…except Alistair’s.
The characters, save for Grave, are Scottish, yet there is not one ounce of Scottish flavor in the dialogue. I’m not talking about that irritating faux Scottish dialect that is so distracting, but the natural rhythm and meter of colloquial speech that every language brings with it. All the characters sound English, even the Americans. Janet is supposed to be eight, yet she speaks and behaves like an adult, an English adult, as do the maids, the butler, and all the other characters.
There are readers out there who will probably like this book better than I did, but for me, the good things about it were overshadowed by elements I found bothersome, such as unanswered questions, and a hero who would do anything to get what he wanted. All in all, Mistress of Rossmor was less than I had hoped it would be, and while it does lay the groundwork for an interesting story, in the end it just sort of pooped out.