Boy, when Barbara Michaels got it right, she was one of the best. I wouldn't go so far as to call Be Buried in the Rain one of her best, but it's definitely in the higher end of the scale.
Julie Newcomb is the family's sacrificial lamb, bribed to spend her summer vacation helping to nurse her dying grandmother, an evil witch of a woman, in the crumbling but historical old family manse in Virginia, place nature is slowly and inexorably reclaiming, and positively dripping with atmosphere. Julie's been busy in med school, unaware of the two skeletons found on the family's property, left posed in the middle of the road, so doesn't find out about the drama and mystery swirling around until she arrives. Efforts by her family to mitigate the scandal and gossip involve bringing in an archeologist who just happens to be Julie's ex; a relationship that imploded 5 years previously, thanks to the evil machinations of her grandmother.
The one thing that Michaels never seemed to get right, in my opinion, was romance; her characters almost always fell into the insta-love category. Whether this is a reflection of the writing style in her time or not, I can't say, but it remains true with this book. Yes, the relationship was one that had prior history, and no, they didn't just pick up where they left off in the first few chapters; Michael does at least get the bit right. But once they do get back together (this is not a spoiler; they always get back together in her books), their future together is taken as a fait accompli - instant happily ever after.
What Michaels does get right though, is the slyly evil grandmother. Her pure, almost supernatural ability to fight back through two strokes; her ability in spite of her obvious physical impairment, to continue to manipulate and control the people around her, and her diabolical ability to psychologically break her own grand children.
Her other talent is atmosphere; Maidenwood is positively Southern Gothic. Her archeological background serves the story well too without sugar-coating the monotony of the profession at all. Most of the book is nothing but frustrated attempts at finding the history buried beneath the soil.
Julie, today, dances the line of being TSTL. Her ability to blithely ignore common sense is sometimes breathtaking, but this is a story from another age when this sort of heroic damsel was the last word in romantic suspense, so enjoying the story requires suspending disbelief a little further than usual in terms of what it means to be a strong, heroic female lead.
The mystery involved was more complex than it looked at the start, and I was left unsurprised by one of the culprits, but more than a tiny bit horrified by the skeletons' stories. I might have to go back and re-read the very end, because I'm not sure that the full story behind who put the skeletons in the road was really explained, but I might have just failed to retain that part as the jet lag set in and my will to live drained out (I finished reading this on the plane home).
This definitely qualifies for Halloween Bingo, but I'm not sure yet what square I'm using it for. I'm in catch-up mode at the moment, but will update this post when I get everything sorted out.