Retro Review: Michael’s Wife by Marlys Millhiser

I’ve occasionally written about re-reading old favorites, and I recently turned my eyes to The Mirror by Marilys Millhiser, and beside it, Willing Hostage, residing on my “keeper” shelf. However, my favorite novel by Millhiser is Michael’s Wife. When I was in high school, I borrowed this novel from a friend who had checked it out of the local library and read the opening chapters during Spanish class. After class I begged to keep it but was rebuffed. No, I had to get on the waiting list at the library. Seems like I had to wait months before I got to read the book in its entirety. I loved it!

Michael’s Wife was published in 1972 so modern readers should consider it a period piece and be prepared to suspend a bit of disbelief as well as setting aside certain notions of proper behavior. The story opens with the main character awakening in a dry stream bed in the desert. She has no memory of who she is, nor why she is there. She is afraid, however, and her fear motivates her to walk swiftly toward a roadway. Shortly after she finds the road, she is offered a ride from a rough looking man named Harley McBride, who is willing to help her as long as she isn’t a hippie. She assures him she is not, but says nothing when asked her name. Somewhat amused, Harley calls her “Doe Eyes” because he says her brown eyes remind him of a doe he saw while hunting. When asked, Harley tells her that he shot the doe right between the eyes. (Remember, modern readers, this is a period piece.)

While visiting a restroom, our amnesiac main character finds something hidden in the waistband of her slacks: A slip of paper—“Captain Michael Devereaux, Luke A.F.B.” handwritten across it. With this clue, she asks Harley to take her to Luke Air Force Base. Harley supplies lunch and some information as they drive from Florence to Phoenix. Harley stops as a motel owned by his brother in Phoenix, and our POV sees a sign wanting a waitress. She offers to take the job in exchange for a room and Harley’s brother agrees. Once she has the privacy of the motel room, she calls Luke Air Force Base and finally reaches Captain Devereaux. After she utters a few halting phrases, he calls her Laurel and tells her to stay put, he will be there in half an hour.

Okay, I hate book reviews with spoilers. The summary here is only the first chapter. This novel has quite a few twist and turns, and although it was classified as romantic suspense when released, it is more suspense and any romance is secondary. There’s some violence, including sexual violence, so this story isn’t for the faint of heart. (Honestly, I can’t understand modern readers who quit reading when a character loses his temper, but can embrace 50 shades of bondage.) Some of the reviewers on Goodreads were unhappy that this novel is very different than The Mirror, which is a time travel yarn. I get that, but in my case I much prefer the plot of Michael’s Wife. Millhiser is a creative writer who crosses between genres, and she did write other supernatural yarns, such as Nella Waits.

Millhiser died in 2017, so I only felt minor guilt at re-reading Michael’s Wife on a freebie site. She leaves a legacy of 15 novels, and her later works were a series of mystery novels featuring a sleuth named Charlie Green. I might try one of those, or I might re-read Willing Hostage, as I have fond memories of that one as well.

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