Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wildfire at Midnight - Mary Stewart

I read about Mary Stewart on Lyn’s (I Prefer Reading) blog a couple of weeks ago and still can’t quite believe I’d never come across her before - what with her being a bestselling author for decades and all (shame on me). It’s especially mystifying (to me personally and presumably of no interest at all to anyone else) because I would have loved and devoured these books in my teens – there’s something of the Georgette Heyer’s about them – nothing specific, just an idea that if you like one you’ll probably like the other.

Despite Lyn’s sanction and the general approval of my reading group I was still a bit sceptical (if these were really books I’d love how could I have missed them – especially the Arthurian sequence when I was smitten by all things Camelot at 14?) I spent some time scouring amazon but still wasn’t entirely convinced but did find a couple set in Scotland so I thought I’d be cheeky and ask Hodder if they would let me have a copy. A very nice publicity lady said yes and I’m quite relieved that I can say how much I liked the two she sent.

‘Wildfire at Midnight’ was first of the blocks. Written in 1956 at has the feel of a period piece but in the best possible way. The heroine, Gianetta, has returned to work as a mannequin after a short lived marriage and unpleasant divorce but she’s been overdoing it for a while and her boss thinks she deserves a holiday. It’s just about coronation day and Gianetta decides to leave the London crowds behind and head for the highlands. She finds herself in a hotel on Skye with an assembly of suspicious characters and a sense of unease – it seems there’s been a rather unpleasant murder in the hills and all the guests are suspects – including her ex husband.

As murder mysteries go it’s not perfect. Stewart is brilliant at building tension and creating an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust but I’m not sure how interested she was in who actually committed the crime or why. The romance provided isn’t the totally traditional type either – Gianetta is reconciled with her straying husband (He cheats on her, she thinks he might be a serial killer – what would a marriage councillor make of them?) but despite their differences it rings true although I’m not sure what happy ever after would be like for such a couple. In fact the book is full of unhappy or imperfect marriages which was one of the things I liked about it, too much happiness makes me cynical after a while, whereas a bit of old fashioned misery makes me hope for the best.

But what really sold me on this book was the humour – plenty of decent one liners and an impression that Stewart was having plenty of fun with her writing. I really couldn’t fail to enjoy a book that starts like this:
“In the first place, I suppose, it was my parents’ fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta. It is a pretty enough name in itself, but it conjures up pictures of delectable and slightly overblown ladies in Titian’s less respectable canvases, and though I admit I have the sort of colouring that might have interested that Venetian master, I happen to be the rather inhibited product of an English country rectory.”

Hodder have just reissued a whole set of Stewarts which are both attractive to look at and on a 3 for the price of 2 offer at Waterstone’s where I plan to get some more tomorrow.


  1. Hope you can find Airs Above the Ground (my favourite) and Nine Coaches Waiting (great atmosphere) too. These new editions are so nice aren't they?

  2. Ramblingfancy - as luck would have it Airs Above Ground and Nine Coaches Waiting were 2 of the 3 I bought, the other was The Ivy Tree. I'm assuming Mary Stewart is still alive (and fast approaching 100)and see from the books I picked up that she was writing well into her 80's. She sounds like quite a woman.

  3. I was lucky enough to find Mary Stewart when I was in my early teens - they were the only romances my mother had ever bought - and I adored them. The romance tends to be a little on the abusive side and always seems to end with an engagement (after two days of thinking the hero's a killer). But MS is an incredibly good travel writer and each book is an excuse to visit some beautiful location. Her descriptions of Greek islands, German castles and sunbaked Provence are mesmerising. Have fun reading them all!

  4. Written in 1956 at has the feel of a period piece but in the best possible way. The heroine, Gianetta, the classic sempstress