RogerBW's Blog

Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart 02 October 2015

1958; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Linda Martin gets a job as governess to the young Comte de Valmy, at his château in the French Alps. But why did her employer seem so keen that she not be able to speak any French?

This is one of my favourites among Stewart's books, and now that I'm reading them slowly in chronological order I think this is because it's where the balance is well struck. Madam, Will You Talk? got the action right but rushed the romance; Wildfire at Midnight tried to push the latter forward but had to elide it for the mystery plot to work; Thunder on the Right made the romance too obvious. Here, the romance is complicated, and it's not just two suspects who are rivals for our heroine: it's the choice between a safe, unglamorous, but secure life, and leaping out into the future with no safety net.

The writing is, as always, solid, and Stewart's traditional descriptions of landscape are here – but it's not just in the lush decorative sequences as our heroine approaches the chateau for the first time. Later it has a sharp point, when she's evading pursuers across a hilly landscape in a sequence that reminded me of some of Buchan's highland stalks. The slow discovery of the nature of the plot is one of this book's pleasures, so I won't go into details here (indeed, I'd recommend against even reading the blurbs); suffice it to say that with a paucity of potential villains, some can easily be identified as vital to any dark goings-on, and this may disappoint the mystery aficionado who wants twists in the plot, while others are more ambiguous.

And that's where we come back to the romance: one of the men showing an interest in Linda may in fact be an aspiring murderer, or at least a conspirator. Can, and should, she bring herself to trust him? The latter part of the book deals with this resolution, in parallel with but not directly linked to the dissection of the plot and the application of comeuppance to the villains. It's all rather elegantly done, with a certain amount of emotional whiplash, and a very powerful ending.

Highly recommended, and a good starting point for the new reader of Stewart.

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