AMMIE COME HOME (Barbara Michaels)

CharlesGeer_AmmieComeHome

I saw the TV movie adaptation of this story starring Barbara Stanwyck. Years later I decided to track down a copy of the novel from which it was sourced.

I am very partial to ghostly mysteries, or paranormal thrillers, as some call them. These differ from “paranormal romance” in that the “romance”, if any, is kept to a minimum. Ammie Come Home is perfect on all counts, a scary, shivery, page turner that kept me enthralled from start to finish. Barbara Michaels never has to resort to descriptions of decapitation or the intestines of her characters being dragged across the pages to create a feeling of fear…she does it with writing, and suspense.

Both the descriptions of the ghostly incidences and the back story are fun, creepy, and interesting. The story never bogs down with pointless descriptions of sex, or endless reiterations of how lovely the heroine or handsome the hero, and how they were uncontrollably drawn to one another–yawn! Ammie Come Home is all about the ghosts themselves and finding out what drives them.

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As for the human protagonists, I agree, there is a time and a place for playing “I’m more expensively educated than you!” and that is not when a life appears to be in danger, nor is it when physical possesion by the spirits of the dead seems to be a valid fear. Moving on, Ruth is a widow living in Georgetown when her college-age niece Sara comes to stay. Ruth reluctantly agrees to host a dinner party/seance which will feature a famous medium. Ruth and her guests, who include Sara’s anthropology professor, Pat, do not believe in ghosts but the seance stirs up old memories in the house.

Sara becomes possessed by the spirit of Ammie—a young girl who lived in the house during the Revolutionary War. Michael’s depiction of Sara—and her possession by Ammie—are done amazingly well. Ammie is as real a character as Sara and yet the changes which occur in Sara are subtle. Ammie has taken over Sara for a reason—and Sara, Ruth, Pat and Sara’s boyfriend, Bruce, all must work to discover who Ammie is, what she wants and whether they can help her.

The characters are real yet flawed. They grow as the story moves along and the absurd situation in which they find themselves is surprisingly real. This is probably what makes the story so chilling—seeing ordinary lives disrupted by the extraordinary. This was written in 1968 and the author really portrays the generation gap of that time, the young and the old just did not understand each other. There are arguments galore between them.

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The web is so well woven, so gripping, that the reader does not want to escape.  Her characters are nice, university and civil service types who lead nice, academic, upper middle-class lives. When confronted by incontrovertible evidence that a malevolent spirit is inhabiting Ruth Bennett’s elegant home, they go out to dinner and consult libraries. If there is such a category as a cozy Gothic, Ms. Michaels is its absolute queen. Nobody does nice people caught in a web of evil as convincingly as she does.

With every plate of cookies, pot of tea and polished mahogany table, with every warm yellow circle of lamplight, she lulls the reader into a sense of safety so that when the ‘coiling mass of oily smoke’ appears in the drawing room, it’s a shock. No hunchbacks, moldering castles or ruined abbeys for Ms. Michaels–her horrors take place in well-appointed, spotless homes, amid familiar people, and it is doubly scary for it.

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Comments

  1. I’ve never heard of this nor the film. It sounds right up my street! I love the cover illustration too. I’m going to be searching this one out. Many thanks, Geoffrey

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  2. No problem, Phil. Good luck with searching down that film, I hope you like to shop online! It never had an official release. As for the book, it does have a striking cover I agree.

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