Anyone thinking of writing a romantic suspense book, take note, this is how you do it.
Actually Mary Stewart didn’t just write romantic suspense, she’s been credited with inventing the genre. Unbelievably, after skimming through reviews of this book, most are of the opinion that this, her 1955 debut, is Stewart’s weakest and least polished book. Unbelievable because it’s seriously good.
The book is set after WW2 which left our heroine, Charity, a widow. Charity travels to France for a holiday and, whilst staying in an Avignon resort, she gets to know one of the guests, a young boy, David. Charity’s natural maternal instinct kicks in and she soon becomes protective of, and friendly with, David. However, this puts her in danger when she and David are being pursued by David’s father, a man who has recently been charged with murdering his wife's lover.
It’s difficult to write suspenseful action scenes but Stewart does it with ease. Her cat and mouse chases, in particular, are spectacularly written. She also made me believe wholeheartedly in the romance. There was a real chemistry between Charity and her romantic lead. At times the air just crackled between them.
I love Alfred Hitchcock movies and this book is basically like reading a book version of one of his movies. I immediately cast Cary Grant and Grace Kelly whilst reading this. In fact, I struggle to understand why no one ever made it into a movie.
Given the age of the book I assumed there would be parts full of political incorrectness and just generally old fashioned views. I was pleasantly surprised that, for the most, this isn’t the case. There are a few parts which have scenes showing men bullying women but they’re not as grating as I feared. Actually, if anything, my fears were unfounded when it came to Charity. She was a strong independent woman who pretty much managed to get herself out of the many sticky situations she landed in throughout - usually without the help of a man. Okay, at times she gets a little help from males (even in a roundabout way she is helped by her late husband) but a lot of the time, it’s her own ingenuity that saves her.
The constant smoking of the characters is probably the most noticeable difference in the eras! Cigarettes are lit up for every occasion! LOL
I listened to this in audio version and it was read by Emilia Fox who proved acting royalty can be handy when it comes to classy narration. Fox is easily one of the best narrators I’ve come across in audio-land thus far. I highly recommend this version.
I really loved this book, I’m looking forward to some serious binge reading of Stewart's other works.