Thanks to Mary Stewart’s wonderful Nine Coaches Waiting, I’ve gotten over my reading slump and seem to be on a Gothic romance kick. When I started reading Nine Coaches Waiting, it occurred to me that I’d read hardly any books which qualify as Gothic romances. I loved Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, which could be deemed a Gothic romance. One or two Georgette Heyer books could be considered Gothic Lite. Apart from that, this is a new genre for me.
So far, I’ve read the aforementioned Nine Coaches Waiting, plus Madam, Will You Talk? and Wildfire at Midnight, which are all by Mary Stewart. If you click on the links in the previous sentence, they’ll take you to the reviews of the books at All About Romance. Angie of Angieville also has a recent review of Nine Coaches Waiting at her blog.
This post is comprised of three mini reviews, plus my reflections on Gothic romances in general.
The Premise: Linda Martin arrives in France to work as governess to nine-year-old Philippe, Comte de Valmy. Philippe was recently orphaned and now resides in the family Château with his paternal uncle, Léon de Valmy, and his wife, Héloise. Linda is excited to be back in France but uncomfortably aware that she got the job through lying by omission. Madame de Valmy was most insistent that Philippe’s new governess should be English and only speak that language with her charge. Linda concealed her half-French origins to secure employment, and now must butcher her perfect French in order to maintain the pretence.
Linda is wary of her new employers, particularly the charismatic wheelchair-bound Léon de Valmy. Even more disconcerting is Léon’s handsome son, Raoul. When a series of attempts are made on Philippe’s life, Linda realises she’s become embroiled in something sinister at the Château Valmy.
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful, old-fashioned story of suspense. While it is very much “of its time”, complete with melodrama and domineering alpha males, it was a fun read and one which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. A-
The Premise: Charity Selborne is a wealthy widow. Her husband, Johnny, was a race car driver who died in WWII. Charity is newly arrived in Provence, where she intends to take a holiday with her old friend, Louise. Louise and Charity have a comfortable friendship and take care not to cramp each other’s style. While Charity loves to visit the tourist sites, Louise prefers to paint. They usually part ways in the mornings and meet up in the evenings for dinner.
The small hotel in which they are staying has an interesting assortment of guests. One of these is thirteen-year-old David Bristol with whom Charity strikes up a friendship. He’s a lonely boy staying with Loraine, his indifferent step-mother. Louise discovers that David’s father, Richard, and Loraine were at the centre of a notorious murder trial in which the father was accused of murdering Loraine’s lover. Although Richard was acquitted due to lack of evidence, Loraine retained custody of David.
When it becomes apparent that Loraine and David are on the run from Richard, Charity is determined to protect David. But is all as it seems?
My Thoughts: This is another winner from Mary Stewart. The mystery has a few nice twists and turns and the characterization is excellent. In order to accept the romance element, one has to believe in love at first sight. I found it a bit hard to swallow given the events directly preceding the declaration of undying love. Nevertheless, this book is a fun read and I adored the setting. B
The Premise: Gianetta Drury is a renowned fashion model. Professionally, her life is a huge success. Personally, not so much. Gianetta married young and was devastated to discover her husband’s infidelity. She divorced Nicholas and has been single ever since. Worn out and over-worked, Gianetta’s boss suggests she take a holiday. When her parents recommend a small hotel on the Isle of Skye, Gianetta decides a spot of rustication is exactly what she needs.
When she arrives at scenic Camasunary, she is shocked to discover that one of her fellow hotel guests is none other than her ex-husband. To add to her consternation, it seems a murder was committed shortly before her arrival and one of the guests might be the culprit. In this tense situation, Gianetta nonetheless attempts to find rest and relaxation. The murderer, however, hasn’t finished their grisly work…
My Thoughts: As a suspense story, I adored this book. As a romance, I was unconvinced by the Happily Ever After. The mystery is tightly-woven and kept me guessing until the end. There were only a few scenes devoted to the development of Gianetta’s romance with Nicholas and I would have preferred more. That said, the story kept me up well past my usual bed time, and I finished the book in one sitting, and I look forward to re-reading it. A-
Some Reflections on Gothic Romance:
As I was writing my mini reviews, I noticed a common thread. I seem to object to the romantic set-ups in the novels. It occurred to me that my reaction was most likely predicated by my modern sensibilities. These days, readers rarely appreciate depictions of domineering alpha males, and I know Nicholas’ infidelity would generate a maelstrom of comments were it to be first published today. When I read an older book, I try to put my modern perspectives aside and appreciate the story as it would have been at the time it was written. This is, of course, easier said than done, and there are aspects which I find it difficult to swallow as a modern reader.
The books are written in the 1st Person and narrated by the respective heroines. We only see the heroes through their eyes. I realise some readers object to romances in the 1st Person, but this aspect doesn’t bother me. It fits the stories.
The characters in all of the novels mentioned above smoke incessantly. This reminds me how PC we’ve become with regards to smoking — and I say this as a non-smoker. I can’t recall a modern hero smoking in a romance novel. Occasional references to cigars are made in historical romances, but that is about it.
Given that I loved Daphne Du Maurier’s novels, I’m amazed I haven’t read Mary Stewart’s books before now. They are tremendous fun and I’ve ordered all of those which are still in print. I’ve also ordered a few by Victoria Holt and I intend to do a blog post devoted to mini reviews of her books.
Some Questions to Ponder:
- Have you ready any books by Mary Stewart? If so, did you enjoy them?
- How do you evaluate older books? Do you find it difficult to put aside modern beliefs/perspectives and judge a book according to the time in which it was written?