Mary Stewart is my most recent new author discovery, and what a delightful author she is! Madam, Will You Talk? was her first book and it is a cracker.
Set in Southern France, it is a suspenseful story that doesn’t waste any time in plunging the reader into murder and mystery.
When I wrote that summer, and asked my friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I might be issuing an invitation to danger…though the part I was to play in the tragedy was to break and re-form the pattern of my whole life, yet it was a very minor part, little more than a walk-on in the last act…How was I to know, that lovely quiet afternoon, that most of the actors in the tragedy were at that moment assembled in this neat, unpretentious little Provençal hotel?
Charity Selbourne, a twenty-eight year old woman, and the book’s heroine, narrates the story. I warmed to her character immediately when she befriended a lonely and deeply unhappy twelve-year-old boy. It’s not the usual stuff of romantic suspense but in one of Mary Stewart’s other books (Nine Coaches Waiting) she sympathetically portrays another young boy. I read in her obituary that:
Mary Stewart’s writing is beautiful and descriptive, and reflects not only her own personal experience but also her interests and educational background. There is an abundance of literary allusions, nods to the classics, and knowledge of theatre and art scattered throughout this book. Her rendering of place/setting, in this case the south of France, in particular Avignon and Marseille, play their role as characters in the story – as does a dog!
Then fate, in the shape of Nidhug, took a hand.
My cue had come. I had to enter the stage.
Avignon is a walled city, as I have said, a compact and lovely little town skirted to the north and west by the Rhone and circled completely by medieval ramparts, none the less lovely, to my inexpert eye, for having been heavily restored in the nineteenth century. The city us dominated from the north by the Rocher des Doms, a steep mass of white rock crowned by the cathedral of Notre Dame, and green with singing pines.
The deserted town of Les Baux, in medieval times a strong and terrible fortress, stands high over the southern plains. The streets of eyeless houses – little more than broken shells – the crumbling lines of the once mighty bastions, the occasional jewel of a carved Renaissance window, clothed with ferns, have an uncanny beauty of their own, while something of the fierce and terrible history of the ‘wolves of Les Baux,’ the lords of Orange and Kings of Arles, still seems to inhere in these broken fortifications.
I saw the first light, fore-running the sun, gather in a cup of the eastern cloud, gather and grow and brim, till at last it spilled like milk over the golden lip, to smear the dark face of heaven from end to end.
In addition to her quality writing is an exciting, convoluted plot with many twists, including a thrilling car chase through the Rhône-Alpes. I enjoyed the (highly improbable) romance and the old-fashioned feel which reminded me of Agatha Christies’ The Man in the Brown Suit and (just a little) of Helen MacInnes’ writing style.
A wonderful read on a rainy day for me, and best of all, I have two more of her books waiting for me.
Mary Stewart’s legacy as an author is vast. She is considered by many to be the mother of the modern romantic suspense novel. She was among the first to integrate mystery and love story, seamlessly blending the two elements in such a way that each strengthens the other.