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Other Worlds    by Barbara Michaels order for
Other Worlds
by Barbara Michaels
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I read and enjoy everything written by Barbara Michaels (who also writes as Elizabeth Peters), but Other Worlds is different from any of her usual works, though it does overlap with the supernatural territory of her romantic suspense novels. In this story, a bunch of experts get together in the smoking room of an exclusive men's club 'outside time and space' to analyse and dissect 'famous cases that have never been satisfactorily explained' - those of the Bell Witch of Tennessee (circa 1817) and the 'eerie force' that infested the Phelps' parsonage in 1850 Stratford, Connecticut (an account is given of each set of events to introduce the investigations).

The experts include Frank Podmore of the Society for Psychical Research, Nandon Fodor of the International Institute for Psychical Research, Harry Houdini, Conan Doyle, and a police inspector. Their theories implicate: Betsy Bell and/or her brothers (poltergeist or misdirection), Betsy with a split personality caused by her father's sexual abuse, Betsy as a natural medium, and Lucy Bell in a case of 'Malice Domestic'. I especially enjoyed the variety in these interpretations as I had just finished reading Melissa Sanders-Self's All That Lives: A Novel of the Bell Witch, a fictional account of the same events.

The author herself (at least it is an American lady who says 'I have drawn extensively from your works for my own humble literary efforts') joins the group for the second debate. Opinions are expressed with 'Doyle maintaining the spiritualist interpretation, Price and Houdini pinning the blame on the naughty kiddies.' What is most interesting is the author's own view of where the blame lay (assuming that she is the mysterious lady).

Though Other Worlds is an interesting read, the fact that it's not the usual Michaels fare is likely to disappoint some fans. Others will appreciate the opportunity to share the thought processes of her main sources on spiritualism and the occult.

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