A thriller and a murder mystery with a strong sense of place; Mary Stewart certainly knew how to plot and pick up the pace into an exciting story as in this novel. Set on the Isle of Skye, with a few geographical changes, the mountains, river side and other features almost become another character in this tautly written story. The weather, with drenching rain and dense mist among other conditions, means that the action is shaped by a lack of visibility or similar difficulties. Originally published in 1956, this book deals with a mysterious murder in a small community centred around a hotel. Back in London excitement is increasing for the Coronation in 1953, but a group of people have gathered in this distant island for various reasons. The story is narrated by Gianetta, a model from London, who has travelled there after struggling with the long term effects of her divorce from Nicholas. Her arrival provokes discussion of a murder of a young woman some weeks before which was puzzling and seemingly without explanation. As the various guests at the hotel are described, Gianetta wonders just who is guilty, and how to cope with her ex husband’s presence.
Gianetta has an exotic ancestor, a notorious mistress and model for artists, for whom she was named. She met and married an older man, Nicholas, but their relationship floundered on his bad behaviour and frequent trips for his writing. Despite the fact that it has been some years since their divorce, her parents are unwilling to accept their separation. As she gets increasingly sad, they suggest that she retreats to the hotel on Skye for a break. When she arrives there, she learns that there is a mystery surrounding Blaven, one of the various local mountains. At the hotel, there is an interesting collection of people, including two couples where the attraction of the place is fishing, various men there for the climbing, and a writer. Two teachers are staying for walking and some climbing. Someone who is not interested in such activities is Marcia Marling, an actress between husbands who is also there for a rest with her chauffeur. She is a deeply unsettling presence for at least one of the wives, and when she seems interested in Nicholas, who has mysteriously turned up, Gianetta is also slightly surprised by her own reaction. When two of the guests go missing, everyone is mobilised to search, and it seems a tragic outcome is probable in Gianetta’s mind. It seems that a murderer is among them, and various incidents mean that there is a huge amount of mutual suspicion. Gianetta is not a suspect, but as various potential guilty parties emerge, she feels the oppression of suspicion around her and threatening her own life.
This is a brilliantly written thriller with much to recommend it to those who enjoy a good plot, a sense of place, and a closed community murder mystery. The mountains and landscape are so well described that it is almost possible to visualise the cliffs, climbs, bogs and rivers. The cold and wet overrides the fact that it is June, although the fact that it stays light late into the evening is a factor. Gianetta is a vibrant narrator, and the last part of the book is definitely page turning with suspense. I recommend this as a classic mystery thriller written by a writer at the height of her powers, and is still a dramatic classic read today.
It is fascinating to see how this murder mystery is handled by a woman writer in the 1950s. It is not an intellectual puzzle, but a very active detection story. It maintained my interest!
My daughter is still improving with pain killers and rest. We actually managed to get a supermarket delivery slot, so a couple of hours were spent fighting with a list and registration. We await the outcome with interest!