Author: Mary Stewart
Publication: M.S. Mill Co., hardcover, 1965
Genre: Romantic Suspense
|This was the original US cover|
Plot: When Vanessa March sees a news report showing her husband in Austria when he told her he was going to Stockholm on business, she is puzzled and his beautiful blonde companion makes her decide to go investigate. She is accompanied by Timothy Lacy, teenage son of a family friend, and they travel to the small town in Austria where a fire caused havoc to a traveling circus, resulting in international coverage. Thanks to Vanessa’s skill as a veterinarian, she saves the life of a horse at the heart of a long buried secret and is befriended by the circus folk. Soon she and Tim (who is usefully fluent in German) are plunged into a mystery involving members of the circus and the famous Lipizzan stallions known for their “airs above the ground” dressage, and the friendly atmosphere of the Austrian countryside turns deadly.
Audience: Mary Stewart, who died in 2014, is/was a romantic suspense category unto herself and everyone else just tries to emulate her, mostly without success. I was never a big fan of her Merlin books but her romantic suspense is beyond compare. And although I like this a lot, it is not even in my top five of her books!*
My Impressions: This is such a delightful read and took me back to the first time I brought it home, back in junior high! When you pick up a Mary Stewart you are guaranteed a light-hearted romance, some drama and danger, charming characters, and an incredible sense of place. She also begins each chapter with a literary quote, as befits someone who earned a first in English from Durham University.
Unlike most Stewart heroines, Vanessa is married but quarreled with her husband before he set off on what he claimed was an essential business trip instead of their long-anticipated vacation. This changes the dynamic a little as part of a typical Stewart story is wondering who the hero will be. Vanessa’s interaction with other characters reveals her determination and ability to think on her feet. Her relationship with Tim is an appealing part of this book and they make a good team, especially when the mystery takes off. Tim’s parents are divorced and he was hoping to visit his father in Austria until it turned out the father was preoccupied with a new fiancée. Vanessa is not that much older than he is but operates as a bracing big sister to an initially cranky adolescent, who not only matures but also becomes an amusing and competent adult as the story progresses.
Stewart’s evocation of the history and magic of the Lipizzaners is an unexpected bonus to this book! I remember persuading my mother to bring my birthday party to the Boston Garden once when the famous stallions were performing there – if you have never seen them perform, look on YouTube.
|Pretty but where's the horse?|
Source: Personal copy (note that her books are now available in Kindle)Off the Blog: I found out today I am a winner in the City of Boston Credit Union’s WINcentiveMonthly Drawing! How fun - I have been working on a project to encourage people to save for emergencies so opened this account to test it.
* So which are my favorite Stewarts?
Madam, Will You Talk
This Rough Magic
The Ivy Tree
Nine Coaches Waiting
Airs Above the Ground