In honor of Mary Stewart’s death earlier this month, here’s a review of another of her classic romantic suspense novels. She was really the master of this genre, writing literate novels with intelligent, plucky heroines and lots of excitement.
Linda Martin arrives in 1950’s France to take up a post as governess to a little boy, Comte Philippe de Valmy. Although Linda has been living in England since her poet father’s death, she has grasped this chance to return to France, where she was born. When the de Valmy’s stress that they want a governess who speaks only English, Linda decides to deceive them in a small way by pretending she does not speak French.
As Linda settles into her life at the Château Valmy, she occasionally feels some disquiet about events or comments she overhears. Philippe is an orphan whose parents died in an automobile accident. Until recently, he was living with his Uncle Thierry, an archaeologist, but Thierry went off to work on a dig. Philippe is a lovable boy, but he seems afraid of his aunt and uncle. Léon de Valmy is confined to a wheel chair. He was once a member of the international social scene, but since his polo accident he has focused his activities on the estate, which belongs by right to Philippe. Although he is a charismatic personality and Linda likes him, she thinks he treats Philippe with undue strictness. His wife Héloïse is beautiful but cool.
Linda has a dramatic meeting with Raoul, the de Valmy’s handsome and worldly son. He seems disposed to admire her, but she cannot believe he is serious. Despite herself, though, she finds herself falling in love.
A couple of disturbing near-accidents happen to Philippe. During a walk in the woods, he is almost shot, apparently by a careless hunter. Later, Linda notices a weakness in the railing of Philippe’s balcony and shoves something across it. This action keeps him from falling to his death when he runs out to the balcony to see who is arriving. Soon she becomes afraid that someone is trying to kill the little boy she has been hired to protect.
Stewart knows how to set a scene and build suspense. She is also an extremely good writer who is able to make you care about her characters. Because of its setting in the château, this is one of the more gothic of her suspense novels. It is also one of the most romantic. Nine Coaches Waiting is the first Stewart novel I read, and it has remained one of my favorites.