Jenny is in France, at the Pyrenees, in search of her cousin Gillian. This is a classic thriller originally published in 1957 in which a young woman must take action in order to help in a situation which rapidly grows beyond her control. This is a surprising book in many ways, as what begins as a touching romance turns into a mystery of a missing woman, and then a thriller of much wider implications. With her usual flair for making complex situations personally challenging and even dangerous, Stewart creates an exciting plot populated with characters who almost seem to jump off the page.
Jenny has been protected by her mother, and has been cherished in her father’s academic world in Oxford, before she must suddenly sort out what is truly happening in a seemingly impenetrable community and then has to take action to save at least one life. In a post war world where there are still divided loyalties and still some confusion over identities, Jenny must discover the truth of a situation which is way beyond her experience. Happily she has an ally who knows her very well, Stephen, who was a good friend who wanted to be more, and who has been sent by her father to finally properly begin a relationship. Their partnership, his optimism and perhaps reckless bravery never takes away from Jenny’s central role and courage. This is not a female in peril novel where a man takes over the action, but a partnership in danger and risk. This novel flows well through a plot which draws in many ideas and elements as well as vividly presenting a setting in real depth.
Jenny grew up with Gillian, a cousin who had been orphaned. Briefly married, when she is widowed Gillian has largely disappeared. When Jenny receives a letter from Gillian out of the blue, she decides to go to an obscure part of the French Spanish border to meet up as requested. When Stephen appears, a figure from her past at the small hotel where she is staying, Jenny is intrigued and relieved. He sees her to the vicinity of a small and austere convent in a valley where she believes Gillian is staying. Her visit to the convent is overwhelming and bewildering, as she encounters the frightening Dona Francisca who gives her the astonishing news that Gillian arrived at the convent, but has died and is buried in the graveyard. Jenny is overwhelmed, and speaks to the friendly sister who tends the garden. She begins to wonder about several things, inaccuracies in the accounts, which create suspicions. She discovers other small things about the convent and the community there that confuse her, and which she confides to Stephen. As things get more confusing and involved, the surrounding countryside with its challenging features becomes more dominant in the story.
I found this, like Stewart’s other books, a very enjoyable and engaging read. The tension builds throughout the novel to a dizzying climax in which everything seems uncertain. Stewart shows her mastery at creating a plot which really twists and turns, and is ambitious in its complexity. More than a missing person novel , this is a large story of mystery, danger and more with Jenny at the centre of a plot which is a gripping and truly tense read. I recommend it to Stewart’s many fans, and am convinced that it will be an enjoyable read for a whole legion of new ones.
This is another book in Stewart’s collection of stunning thrillers. I am surprised that it has taken me this long to properly discover her books, as each one I read seems more gripping and involving. With a terrific sense of place and challenge, I find them genuinely impossible to put down. They are obviously from the mid twentieth century so are pretty low tech and in a way that is quite nice – they are also honest but not gory or brutal. The good news is that I have found a few more on my shelves – so more reviews to come! Are you a fan? Are copies of all of her books easy to find? Having bought a set a few years ago, I am likely to be missing some that are more elusive?