Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

First Sentence: In the first place, I suppose, it was my parent’s fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta.

Fashion model Gianetta follows the suggestion of her parents and heads to the Isle of Sky for a restful vacation. Those plans did not include finding her ex-husband, Nicholas Drury, at the same hotel. Nor did they include learning a local girl had recently been murdered and left in a way that suggests a ritual. But the killer isn’t done. Can Gianetta avoid becoming a victim?

Told in first person, past tense, Stewart’s character both provides us with comprehensive information as to her background, and makes the reader welcome into her story. Stewart makes her protagonist very approachable and rather self-deprecating; a lovely trait considering Gianetta’s profession.

With the same clarity of writing, we also know the other characters in the story through their descriptions, mannerisms and speech. It’s nice that she included both certain character’s dialects and Gaelic phrases. What is particularly clever is the use of one of the characters, actress Marcia, who, smoothly and naturally, introduces many of the other characters to both us and to Gianetta.

It’s the small touches that make the time and setting come to life, such as remembering that this was an age when most people smoked, or that some placed still used dip-pens. There were also delightfully British turns-of-phrase…”She wasn’t just hit or stabbed or choked in a fit of human passion. She was deliberately done to death…” At the same time, there are ideas from then that still hold true…”Don’t you know yet that there’s no room for pride in marriage? You have to choose between the two.”…and the age old question of the limits of loyalty. Her descriptions of place are evocative…”And, locked in the great arms of the mountains, the water lay quiet as a burnished shield, reflecting the deeper blue and deeper gold the pageantry of hill and sky.”

Although traditionally regarded as "romantic suspense"--I suspect by the men who ran publishing companies--the emphasis is much more on the mystery than on romance. While there is a touch of romance done in classic 50’s fashion of conversations not shared with the audience, and activities taking place behind closed doors, they story is, at its heart with excellent red herrings and plenty of suspense, an exciting climax and a wonderful ending.

Wildfire at Midnight” is one of those wonderful books that doesn’t grow old or passé.  A traditional suspense that is as wonderful a read today as it was when first published.  Ms. Stewart deserves to be considered among the classic authors.

WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT (Sups-Gianetta Brooke Drury-Scotland-Contemp) - VG
Stewart, Mary – Standalone
William Morrow and Company – 1956

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