Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. A friendship blossoms between a young widowed English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 2021

The Moon-Spinners

By Mary Stewart


I had just seen the Disney movie The Moon-Spinners for about the millionth time motivated by reading Hayley Mills’s autobiography. I had forgotten how different it was from the book. In both, Nicola Ferris our 22-year-old young heroine runs across Mark in Crete while on vacation with her forty-something cousin Frances. In the book, Mark is already wounded and in hiding with his Greek friend, Lambis. In the movie, they are both guests at a small family hotel. They meet at a party the first night but the next morning, he is mysteriously missing. Of course, the book has Colin, Mark’s kidnapped little brother instead of the friendly Greek youth of the movie. That was a plus. Mark’s and Nicky’s anguish and our suspense over whether the bad guys had killed Colin or taken him hostage added a lot to the novel. The scenes where Nicky and Colin find a buried body that appears to be Mark’s and the discovery of the truth later make gripping reading.

There is one main thing, though, that I feel the movie improves upon and that is Mark’s motivation for his conflict and danger from Stavros and company. In the book, Mark and Colin are threatened because they witnessed a murder among thieves. But in the movie, Mark was accused of stealing some jewels in London and the only way he can clear his name is to follow Stavros to Crete, recover them, and prove Stavros was the real thief. This brings in the iconic Pola Negri to play the part of Madame Habib to whom Stavros is bringing the jewels to sell. Those scenes, and also the scenes at the diplomat’s house that they take refuge in only to find out he is one of the gang are really suspenseful and add a lot more adventure to the plot of the movie.

I did enjoy the Moonspinners very much despite the sub-par narration of Daphne Kouma. Her enunciation was not the clearest and she often whispered to convey tension or suspense in the story which also made her difficult to understand sometimes. The romance between Mark and Nicky was very slight and rather subtle, but it was sweeter than in the movie. The characters of Colin and Lambis added some humor and depth. Nicky’s successful Cat and Mouse with Sophia, Tony, and Stratos until she makes a fatal mistake keeps you on the edge. And of course, Mary Stewart’s description of the land and the character of the people and their ways were very evocative as always. The book is lighter than some of her books in which the lead characters are a little more mature, but none beat this one for charm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 5, 2021

This Rough Magic

By Mary Stewart

I re-read this on Audible. In my youth, I had read Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels at least several times each. This one was not a favorite, and I did not remember very much about it. Hence my decision to choose this one to listen to. Well, it was wonderful. Unlike my experience with re-reading many of my old favorites, the magic of Mary Stewart is undiminished.

Of course, her ability to evoke the sights, people, and atmosphere of her chosen settings is almost legendary. Corfu is the setting of this one. Next best thing to being there. Although a trifle dated in its depiction of her male heroes and her heroine’s relationship to them, I found that quality part of its charm.

I loved the characters. Lucy, a second or third-tier London actress was appealing, intelligent, self-aware, and courageous. She is visiting her sister Phyllida, who was well-drawn and, although a certain “type,” was interesting and provided a bit of humor (not Mary’s strong point). She provides some sisterly perspectives on Lucy’s endearing personality. Max was a very worthy hero. I loved the development of their relationship from suspicion to love. It was subtle and romantic. Mary sometimes likes to incorporate charming teenage boys into her stories. In this one, we have two. And of course, Julian Gale, Max’s father, a great Shakespearean actor, who has mysteriously retired from the London stage. The bad guy was one of her most despicable and dangerous, once his pleasant and attractive facade is slowly and subtly peeled away. Lucy shines in her management of his personality and the danger he represents.

The sightseeing trip and Lucy’s entrapment with the bad guy aboard his boat is full of tension and suspense. Mary is a master at depicting women in deadly peril. I loved that in this one, she rescues herself with no help from her hero. I did remember about the rescue of the dolphin but had forgotten how the dolphin returns the favor. It was thrilling and touching. It is all topped off with a delicious scene with Lucy, who everyone thinks was probably murdered by the bad guy, making a dramatic entrance into his home while he is being unsuccessfully questioned by the police and her friends.

There were a few things that didn’t make sense, and a few frustrations, but they were very trifling. I wish there were other Mary Stewarts I could re-read, but the three I don’t know practically by heart, are ones I actively dislike. I’ll think on it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 23, 2021