The House of Many Rooms
“Let’s say that my character is a house of many rooms,” says Michael Florio, the anti-hero of this thriller. Although I had heard raves about this book and knew of the level of suspense in the story, I wasn’t prepared to be as engrossed as I was – for the first two-thirds of the book, that is.
In the wealthy and exclusive San Francisco enclave of Pacific Heights, Michael and Barbara Florio’s fifteen-year marriage has disintegrated into a vengeful, dysfunctional relationship. When a suspicious fire ends the life of alcoholic, pill popping, child-smacking Barbara, Michael takes his two adopted daughters, golden child Devon and “crazed” pyromaniac Therese, and heads for Urbino, Italy, to hide out, leaving the investigators to wonder who really set the fire, Michael or Therese.
Thirteen years earlier, Rebecca Carey had given up Therese for adoption. Now she is recovering in a modest, but well-run Nepalese hospital after nearly dying in a mountain climbing accident. Upon reading the article relating the death of Barbara Florio, whom she had met during adoption proceedings, she, too, takes off for Urbino, where a long ago conversation indicates to her that Michael might be hiding. Her plan to get a job working for the family, none of whom know who she really is, is successful, and Rebecca finds herself drawn to the sullen, sometimes violent child who once was her own.
While Rebecca slowly begins to gain Therese’s trust, much to Michael and Devon’s anger, she is appalled by revelations that make her believe that Therese’s only chance rests in being separated from Michael and Devon. Unfortunately, Rebecca is also attracted to the dark, dangerous man, and can only wonder what will happen when he finds out she is Therese’s biological mother. When the police catch up with the fugitive family, Rebecca takes the opportunity and flees with her daughter to Mexico, where Ryan Foster, Therese’s natural father, works in a hospital.
Michael Florio is brilliantly characterized, and it was here that I found both the strength and the biggest problem with the story. Michael is seductive, dangerous, a psychopath to be sure, and Rebecca’s surrender to him was only to be expected. In contrast, Ryan Foster is a little too conveniently placed and timed; after thirteen years, he is only too happy to open his arms and heart to both Rebecca and Therese, to do anything for them when he receives the phone that will change his life. I ended the book feeling that Rebecca would never really forget Michael, an unfair ending to Ryan and Therese as well.
Rebecca, on the other hand, was not as well drawn and Therese’s opening up to her seemed to happen a little too quickly, considering how many other people had tried to get through to the girl.
While the latter part of The House of Many Rooms didn’t shine as bright as the first two-thirds, most of the story was indeed thrilling and suspenseful. I devoured the book almost immediately and am now on the lookout for Marius Gabriel’s new book, The Seventh Moon, due out in December.
|Review Date:||December 2, 1999|
|Review Tags:||San Francisco|