RogerBW's Blog

Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart 15 May 2020

1997 romantic mystery. Kate Herrick was married, then very soon widowed, during the War; a few years later, she travels to her childhood home, to sort out the furniture that'll be sent to her grandmother in Scotland. And to get some papers left in a safe. But they're missing…

This is a very gentle book. Even more than in Thornyhold, there's no real opposition: Kate learns things, and puts together disparate bits of information, in order to work out solutions to the various puzzles, but even if she'd simply ignored all the strangeness everything would have come out all right.

Kate never knew who her father was, and when her grandfather died her grandmother's sister arrived to "keep her company". But the sister was a horrible religious nutter and so Kate's mother ran away, everyone assumes with the gipsies [sic] who were nearby at the time, and was later killed in a bus crash in Ireland.

Which wouldn't seem to be much of a mystery, but someone knew where the hidden safe was, and apparently had a key for it…

So that's the plot; but much more of the book is given over to a kind of nostalgic tourism, depications of village life of the sort that was fading even before the war but still just about carrying on afterwards (before cars got cheap). It's self-indulgent, but even at 81 Stewart's a sufficiently good writer that I find I don't mind. (She would have been 29 at the time the book is set, and I assume that there's a certain amount of real-world detail here.)

She was a dumpy little creature, with the pink cheeks and blue eyes of a long-faded prettiness, and wispy grey hair that was rather the worse for its morning among the lupins.

That works very well. The changes in Kate's life seem rather less effective; all right, Kate is independently wealthy thanks to her late husband's will, but by the end she's decided to live in this cottage in a small village; is she really going to be happy there? What's she going to do? And while she may have known her new beau when they were both children, they've got about two days' experience of each other as adults; it's a little too pat, not least because (in the first person narration) Kate doesn't appear to have any particular feelings for him.

This was the last of Stewart's novels. Having now reread all the modern ones, I'm glad to have done so; the quality varies a bit, and I'd probably put her acme in the early 1960s, but they're all worth going back to.

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