by Mary Stewart
This one takes the typical Mary Stewart heroine(nice, sensible, spirited, smart, and attractive) to Austria. I think this is the only one of her books where the heroine is already married. Vanessa and her husband had been planning a second honeymoon to Italy when he puts everything on hold because his company is supposedly sending him to Sweden. Vanessa is not pleased, to say the least, and they part in anger. But then she sees her husband in a newsreel about a tragic circus fire in a small village in Austria! And, he has a protective arm around a pretty young woman! Despite her angry parting words, Vanessa and Lewis are happily married and her upstanding husband has never given her a reason not to trust him. What is going on? Coincidentally, A friend of her mother’s has asked her to chaperone her 17-year-old son, Tim, to visit his estranged father in Vienna not far from where the newsreel was filmed. What is a concerned and suspicious wife to do? Need you ask?
If I had to name a favorite Mary Stewart novel, this would be it. Tim and Vanessa become the best of friends despite their age difference, and their relationship is charming. When Lewis is tracked down, he has a very good if rather astounding reason for his deceptive actions and his many “business trips” to Europe. It turns out that there is a lot more to her husband than Vanessa was aware of. In most of Mary Stewart’s novels, the romance is tinged with darkness and suspicion with little room for humor. I loved that this one was happy and even lighthearted. The rapport and banter between Vanessa and Tim and Vanessa and Lewis and eventually Tim and Lewis was a highlight.
Of course, there is intrigue and danger involved, including a thrilling chase over the rooftops of a fairy tale castle and a terror-filled race by car and train to rescue Tim from an unthinkable fate. Yikes! Poor Tim. PTSD is definitely part of his future. And intertwined throughout is the small family-owned circus which proudly features a Lipizzan stallion. When Vanessa, a qualified veterinarian by the way, is called on to treat an old broken-down horse who was injured in the fire, it leads to two of the most touching and triumphant scenes in a Mary Stewart novel that I can recall.
The crime part is a bit pedestrian. I liked the romanticism and drama of what turned out to be the red herring much better. But that is just a quibble. There is another mystery that crops up in this one that is much more intriguing and involving than the mere breaking of international laws. I’ve never forgotten what I learned about the Lipizzan horses and their history when I read this for the first time. I listened to this one on audible, and as usual, this added even more enjoyment to this story that I last read many many years ago.