by Mary Stewart
(Modified) Publisher's Blurb:
A governess in a French château encounters an apparent plot against her young charge's life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel. When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. After a strange accident threatens Linda's innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.
First, I slightly modified the publisher's blurb because I felt it gave away too much. A snip here and there improves it, imho. Luckily, I hadn't seen the blurb until just now. It wasn't too revealing, but still... Blurb writers need to tread carefully! There's a fine line between tantalizing the reader and blunting the pleasure of discovering things on your own.
This was my second try with this author. The first was Rose Cottage, a month or so ago. I abandoned it so quickly that I didn't even bother writing a DNF "review". I've since peeked at reviews, trying to decide whether or not one of the characters was going to turn out to have stomach cancer or something similarly awful. I'm sorry, but no. I don't want (or need) to read about serious health problems. I just don't. I'm still not sure about that particular issue, but nothing I've seen has convinced me that this is one to read right away. (Maybe someday, if I read everything else by the author and still want more...)
...So, about this book. After that first bad experience with the author, I was a little nervous, but this turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. There are enough clues and warnings scattered here and there to let you predict several major plot points-- yet I was still guessing about at least a couple of things until nearly the end. It was a satisfying read-- light romantic suspense with a very well-written setting-- and I'm interested in trying more by Mary Stewart at some point in the future.
More Specifics (Including Spoilers):
-- This book felt a little difficult to place in time for me. Of course there were cars-- and airplanes-- so I knew it wasn't too far back, but this-- "he was using-- not a wheel, but an atomic blast, to break a butterfly"-- stunned me slightly. It was published in 1958, which was later than I'd have guessed, probably.
-- "He shot me a queer look out of those oyster eyes..." What in the world are oyster eyes?!
-- I like Philippe. An appealing, vulnerable child character-- not a brat to drive you up the wall. And thank goodness, because he spends a fair amount of time "on stage"!
-- The Jane Eyre references were amusing, because I'd already noted some similarity there. (Not that I'm expecting congratulations; they were pretty blatant.) An unloved orphan in the care of a new governess-- herself an orphan... A huge "castle" of a house run by a mysterious master with a sharp tongue... An accident on the road leading to the introduction of The Hero...
-- The language-based jokes were nice. I was particularly amused by Philippe's trouble pronouncing "squirrel", since that is one of the words Donald used to struggle with. ("Squirreller" was his version.) I guess it is a tricky word.
-- Another mystery: "'Darling, don't be so Sabine about it. It was only a kiss, after all.'"
-- This is very spoilery, so... You've been warned. So, as soon as the author makes a point of showing you that Philippe's nightly chocolate drink is made with a special sweetener (sucrose, was it?)-- not plain sugar-- you know there's a reason for it-- the most likely being poison. And yes, of course you're right. But what about this? When Linda's trying desperately to figure out "what can they be planning to do [to Philippe] that includes me? What the sweet hell can they be planning?" ... Is it just me, or does that seem like a little inside joke between author and reader? Sweet hell? Poisoned sucrose? Eh, maybe not, but it caught my eye.
-- "I woke him quietly. I used a trick I had read about somewhere in John Buchan-- a gentle pressure below the left ear. It seemed to work."
-- Raoul grew on me, I have to confess. It took me a while (until the scene at Villa Mireille) to decide whether it would be Raoul or William. Though William did seem like a long shot by that time, since he'd been much too far in the background for most of the book, it still seemed possible... And she did meet him first. (It seems very common that the heroine ends up with whichever eligible bachelor she "happens" to have met first.) And he was warm, "gentle", kind, etc.... But he was "safe". Uh oh. Safety is rarely appealing to these heroine types. Now, if he merely makes her feel safe, that may be alright-- but if he himself is "safe", it's a bad sign. ...Anyway, the romance element kept me guessing, too.
-- Still on the subject of romance, gee, these characters fall madly in love quickly! Linda and Raoul, of course, but also poor William. He seems the most practical of the bunch, but he's clearly interested in Linda from the very beginning. (Poor guy. She really does "use" him a bit, toward the end...)
-- Linda's frequent recall of poetry seemed a little strange to me, but then I'm not a big fan of poetry. Maybe it's natural enough for someone who is...