Patti Abbott's ongoing Friday's "Forgotten" Book feature this week takes a look at crime fiction from the 1950s. I don't know that I believe in "psychic" connections, but in a bit of irony, I chose a book by Mary Stewart and wrote the following blog post before I learned that Ms. Stewart had died just a few days ago. The Telegraph has a nice obituary.
British author Mary Florence Elinor Stewart was a multi-bestselling author was at the peak of her popularity from the late 1960s through the 1980s. However, her career started back in 1954 with the release of Madam, Will You Talk?, her first foray into romantic suspense. Although best known for her Merlin series, Stewart has legions of fans who appreciate her romantic suspense novels, including This Rough Magic, which I blogged about a few years ago.
Nine Coaches Waiting is a Stewart suspense novel originally published in 1958. It centers on Linda Martin, a young orphaned French expatriate who's been living in England. After ten years in the UK, she returns to Paris to take on the post of governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy. Linda soon forms a fond with Philippe, who is also an orphan living with his Uncle Léon and Aunt Héloïse in the huge Château Valmy situated (of course) far from civilization. From the get-go, an air of foreboding about the place makes Linda decide not to admit that she speaks fluent French. (The de Valmys had insisted that their nephew’s new governess should be an English girl, after all.)
Linda falls in love with the beauty and history of the estate and surrounding countryside and even finds herself falling for the reckless and rakishly handsome Raoul, son of Léon and Héloïse. But then mysterious accidents start to happen, and Linda feels an increasing sense of danger and dread. Little by little she wonders if the accidents are related to the fact that her young charge will inherit the estate when he comes of age. Can she trust the charming but imposing Léon or the cold and aloof Héloïse? Or is the real threat the attractive Raoul? The young governess has to struggle against her fears and suspicions to keep herself and Philippe safe.
As with This Rough Magic, the setting of the story serves as one of the the most impressive characters, as in this passage:
I craned forward to look. The village of Soubirous was set in a wide, green saucer of meadow and orchard serene among the cradling hills. I could see the needle-thin gleam of water, and the lines of willows where two streams threaded the grassland. Where they met stood the village, bright as a toy and sharply-focused in the clear air, with its three bridges and its little watch-making factory and its church of Sainte-Marie-des-Ponts with the sunlight glinting on the weathercock that tips the famous spire.
And as with most of Stewart's protagonists, Linda has to use her wits and deductive reasoning to save the day, rather than any modern kick-ass theatrics. As the author herself once said, "I take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal everyday people with normal everyday reactions to violence and fear; people not 'heroic' in the conventional sense, but averagely intelligent men and women who could be shocked or outraged into defending, if necessary with great physical bravery, what they held to be right."