I always want to enjoy gothic romances, and I never do. I think the problem is usually the heroine, who is pretty much always an idiot. She's prone to hysteria, she's not too bright, and she's annoyingly "pure," which is basically her strongest character trait.
This book wasn't as gothic as I thought it was going to be, but I really liked Miranda, the heroine in Barrett's Hill. The story was told in first person and her personality came through quite clearly. She had a lot of funny lines/musings:
"Stop!" he commanded, horrified to the tips of his Christian toes.
My one consolation was that Fathimore was allowed to preach only once a month—any more and I would have become an atheist.
"[They] all were ... with her that weekend. It was Adam's idea."
"At the same time?" I laughed. "Now that isindelicate."
It was my firm belief, based on no knowledge whatsoever, that murderers were late risers.
However, Miranda is also prone to hysteria and stupid decisions at times. At one point Adam, the hero, gets her up to his hotel room and they kiss passionately. Then he pushes her away, telling her he didn't bring her up there for kissing/other stuff. In reaction, Miranda damns him four times and runs from the room. Like, how DARE you not ravish me! This isn't the only time she runs away from him in a fit of emotion, but it was the strangest.
She also has the occasional WTF train of thought:
If I had to be raped and murdered by any of those four I'd rather have Adam, but of course, that was hardly much of a recommendation.
Miranda is very inconsistent in her feelings for Adam. In her mind, he's a suspect in the murder of a prostitute that happened twenty years earlier. (Adam likes whores. For some reason, this makes me like him more.) I'm not sure why, but Miranda is completely OBSESSED with this murder that happened before she was ever born. She jumps to conclusions about it practically every page. She constantly alternates between thinking Adam is the murderer and denying he could be, and she frequently goes off alone with him, and kisses him. Adam is a lot lighter than many of Anne Stuart's heroes, though.
Four people were involved in the murder: Adam, Miranda's uncle, her uncle's assistant, and Miranda's father (who is dead now). The involvement of the first three are more or less explained by the end, but Miranda's father is completely ignored or forgotten.
The contrast between Miranda and other women in the book is about what you'd expect, though you're not bashed over the head with comparisons. She is the good one, and all other women are basically whores (some actually are whores—or "fancy-ladies"—but still). Although the dynamic between Miranda and her younger cousin Maxine starts off fun, it later becomes pretty antagonistic as they both vie for Adam's attention. Miranda disparages Maxine for her flightiness, her choice of clothing, and for liking men a little too much. She also looks down on Roxie, a "fallen woman," for trying to look younger than her years (and Roxie is actually younger than Adam). Miranda's dead mother isn't exempt from this attitude, since she ran off with another man and left Miranda alone with her jerk of a father.
Although something like this isn't exactly unusual in a gothic romance, I find it a little weird that Adam had a crush on Miranda's mother. Adam was ten years younger than the mother (and if my math is correct, he's eighteen years older than Miranda), but the two women look alike. Miranda also looks like the murdered prostitute. Just ... a little icky.
Thankfully, there are some beautiful passages here and there:
We had eight inches of snow that night—a new record. When I awoke the next morning and saw the white hillside I started crying. I am not at all sentimental, but every now and then beauty creeps up on me unexpectedly and lays waste to my emotions.
And unintentionally funny ones:
"... Along with the trusteeship of all that money you have the care of someone my dear father variously called a termagent, a shrew, a feminist, and a creature worse than her mother..."
"Did you hear that?" he demanded of Fathimore, his face mottled with rage. "A feminist! In my house! ..."
The writing is rough, as Stuart mentions in the introductory letter, but I think that made the book all the more enjoyable. It wasn't as staid as some of her later work. The characters were more lively. Strangely, this struck me as one of her more feminist novels. I mean, that's not saying much, but it's something.