Thursday, September 1, 2016

Reading Mary Stewart: Three Novels of Suspense

Some of my August reading included three novels by Mary Stewart. She's on my list of favorite authors, and I want to read everything she's written. From what I've read about Mary Stewart, she didn't care to pigeonhole her books as romantic suspense. She only wanted to tell a good story. These three novels don't disappoint. They're all a little different but include the common elements of a good mystery, a likable and independent heroine, and a bit of romance.

I wanted to read Madam, Will You Talk? (1954) because it's Mary Stewart's first novel. The setting is the south of France. The story begins in Avignon in Provence where war widow Charity Selborne and her friend Louise are vacationing. Staying at their hotel is thirteen year old David and his step-mother, Lorraine. Charity befriends David but soon finds herself pursued by David's father and supposed murderer, Richard Byron, who is trying to get his son back. A cat and mouse game takes place throughout the south of France. But things are not all they seem as Charity has to figure out who the real villains are. This story is full of tension and at times reminded me of a Hitchcock thriller. I loved Madam, Will You Talk?

Touch Not the Cat (1976) is the story of Bryony Ashley who comes back to her home, Ashley Court, after her father dies. There is some talk of the entail in the will which, thanks to Downton Abbey, I understood. For this novel, I had to suspend my disbelief a bit since Bryony communicates telepathic messages with members of her family, such as her twin cousins, Emory and James. When it appears that Bryony's father has found a way from the grave to prevent Emory and James from getting their hands on Ashley Court, she has to use her wits to keep herself alive. Family secrets, lies, unexpected love, attempted murder and the setting of a crumbling estate with its own secrets kept me reading late into the night. 

Of these three novels, Stormy Petrel (1991) is most like a cosy mystery. I loved the setting of a sparsely populated island off the coast of Scotland. The title has to do with a species of bird on the island, but it's also the name of a boat that features prominently in the story. Cambridge teacher and writer Rose Fenemore takes a vacation to the island of Moila where she's rented a cottage. Her brother, Crispin, who has an interest in birds and amateur photography, plans to join Rose on her vacation but has been delayed when he injures his ankle. 

On a dark and stormy night, an intruder comes into the cottage in the form of the handsome and charming Ewen MacKay who tells Rose he grew up in the cottage. Another stranger drops by that same night looking for shelter who tells Rose that he's John Parsons, a geologist. Or is he? The mystery involves who these men really are and why they're on the island. The novel is full of vivid descriptions of the island and its wildlife. I also loved reading about Rose's day-to-day life at the cottage. A subplot about a developer that comes to the island makes the book drag a bit toward the end, but it didn't stop me from enjoying Stormy Petrel.

I recommend all these novels, especially if you're a Mary Stewart fan. What is your favorite Mary Stewart novel?

Mary Stewart (1916-2014)


  1. I love Mary Stewart. Her novels are well-written and just plain fun. My favorites are The Moonspinners and Nine Coaches Waiting.

  2. My favorite Mary Stewart novel is Nine Coaches Waiting followed by Thornyhold and Touch Not the Cat. She's such a great author. I wish she'd written more! :)

  3. It's hard to pick a favorite! I loved Nine Coaches Waiting too, but also The Ivy Tree, My brother Michael, The Moonspinners...