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. And if there is anything further removed than that from the bagnio Venuses of Titian's middle period, I don't know what it is.
I've tried to remember when it was that I first read a book written by Mary Stewart. I'm pretty sure it was in my high school days - probably early 1970's. I'm not sure this one was my first - think that goes to NINE COACHES WAITING. However, I do now realize that my fascination with Scotland and especially the Hebrides likely comes from my first reading of WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT - set on the Isle of Skye. The descriptions of the mountains are beautiful, painting a stunning picture. The story itself is a sort of 'locked room' mystery - a hotel with a limited number of people - a murder and then another and another. I had forgotten how spare many of the books were, written over 60 years ago. Most of our novels now top 300 pages or more. This one was only 224 pages. And yet, there was enough to take the reader deep into the Scottish mountains and into the mind of a mad person. A few things were a bit dated - everyone smoked - a lot. The book takes place in 1953, right at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation (June 2nd) and also the first successful climb of Mt. Everest (May 29th). Raise your hand if you knew those two things happened within 4 days of each other. All in all, this was a great book to begin my Classics Club challenge. I enjoyed it thoroughly again. I have another of this author's books on that Classics list - THIS ROUGH MAGIC. I'll save it for later.
First published in 1956, this haunting novel of suspense and romance set in the Scottish Hebrides blends pungent description with sheer terror as only Mary Stewart can. Most visitors to the Isle of Skye are there to climb the jagged peaks of Blaven or fish the many sparkling streams, but Gianetta Brooke came to forget Nicholas Drury—the husband she had painfully divorced. Upon arrival, however, Gianetta realizes that this won’t be a typical vacation when she discovers that Nicholas is numbered among the guests at the small inn. Then, upon the treacherous slopes of Blaven, a murder is committed, and although Gianetta missed the first act of an eerie, unearthly crime, the murderer is set to strike again and again before a thrilling finale that pits Gianetta face-to-face with a madman.
Mary, Lady Stewart was born in 1916 and died in 2014 at the age of 97. She lived in Scotland with her husband, Sir Frederick Stewart, a geologist. They had met at a VE Day Dance in 1945 and married 3 months later. Mary Stewart was a born storyteller and her romantic suspense books were set in some very vivid and exotic locations - Scotland, France, Damascus, Austria, and the Greek Isles. THE MOON-SPINNERS, one of her books, was made into a film by Disney. She also wrote a series of books about Merlin, the first of which was, THE CRYSTAL CAVE. Perhaps some of you have read it. I was delighted to find this interview with Mary Stewart and share it below. It runs over 20 minutes, but I thought it was interesting and informative. And fun to hear this favorite author in her own words. Enjoy!