RogerBW's Blog

Thunder on the Right, Mary Stewart 18 May 2015

1957; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Jennifer Silver goes to the Pyrenées to visit her widowed cousin, who's staying in a convent and thinking about taking orders. But when she arrives, she finds her cousin has suddenly died and been buried. Or has she?

Gavarnie is a real place in the Pyrenées, a commune of 32 square miles with a population of 160 in the modern day, but I have no idea how authentically it's portrayed here. Mary Stewart regarded this as the weakest of her books, and (apart from some of the very late ones) I am inclined to agree. The situation is one that could potentially frame a great story: an essentially non-religious person visiting a convent, trying to work out what of the strangeness is just the convent's way of doing things and what might be genuinely sinister, but somehow it never quite develops.

This is romantic suspense, so there has to be a hero; Stephen Masefield was Jennifer's more-or-less boyfriend, sent away in haste when her overprotective mother realised what was going on. An interesting twist is that while Stephen is very much in love with Jennifer, she has regarded him as a good friend rather than as a potential lover, which necessarily restrains him even though he's come back to England and then on to France in order to put their relations on a firmer footing. But Stephen becomes in effect a home base: Jennifer goes to the convent, learns something that disturbs her, then comes back to Stephen to try to convince him that there's a problem.

There's a splendid villain in the person of Doña Francisca, the convent's treasurer who lays Jennifer's cousin's death on her with a minimum of sympathy, and a more ambiguous character in Pierre Bussac, the mountain guide. Both of them clearly have secrets, but just as clearly they have different goals, which may end up colliding.

But somehow things don't quite work; events often come over as just a little too contrived, even coincdental, and the action is strictly overblown – even, sadly, Jenny's realisation that Stephen is the one for her. There's a subplot involving one of the novices at the convent which is largely dispensable except to trigger the final confrontation, but the place is otherwise strangely bare of people (considering the way that monasteries and convents take great pains to make sure that one is never alone). An action sequence near the end just doesn't work (if you are crossing a high narrow bridge, having a rope held at the far end and tied round you isn't really going to make your life easier). It all feels a bit hasty and sketched-in. When someone casually admits to repeated rape of a person unable to give informed consent, and nobody seems to think this terribly important, I am forced to remember that things were indeed different in 1957. All the villains end up dead, but carefully not killed by the good guys: very neat.

That said there's still Stewart's lovely descriptive writing, the melodrama is powerful, and the plot mostly hangs together. I did enjoy it on this re-reading, but this book is probably only for the Stewart completist, which I am.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1