Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart – a story of challenges and courage in a storm filled valley

Thunder on the Right (Mary Stewart Modern Classic): ...


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?

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart – Adventure for Lucy on a Greek island and more

This Rough Magic

A Greek island, a dolphin and mysterious sea based activities dominate this classic thriller by a skilled and dynamic writer of adventure narrated by a woman. In this particular book Lucy is a ‘resting’ actress who is spending time with her sister on a glorious island. There is sunshine, private beaches and more to fill days that ought to be idyllic, but a local tragedy makes her reassess a community that seems hidebound in charming tradition. This 1964 novel has much to offer in terms of narrative power, and the creation of some memorable characters. The most fascinating of these is Sir Julian Gale, with his conviction that the island was the basis of Shakespeare’s Tempest, and his irresistible attraction for Lucy, who sees herself as far away from his eminence as is possible. There is a dolphin, beautifully described and significant in unexpected ways. The real beauty of this book is in its description of the setting, of private beaches, sustained sunshine and sea currents. It brings to life an adventure with a strong climax and much more. As with other books by this author, the female characters are at the forefront of all the action.


The book opens with Lucy and her sister, Phyllida, relaxing in the sun on a beach. Phyllida has a wealthy and absent husband, and she explains to Lucy how they rent out the family house, Castello dei Fiori, to the famous actor, Sir Julian Gale, who had a breakdown following a family tragedy. Lucy is surprised to hear that the servants, Maria and her children Miranda and Spiro are connected to the great man. Godfrey Manning is a neighbour, and turns up at Phyllida’s house to break the news that the young man, Spiro, has drowned. From this tragedy springs other events, especially when Lucy discovers that someone is shooting at the tamed dolphin, much to her fury. She confronts Max Gale, the son of Sir Julian, whose preoccupation and secrecy makes her suspicious that more is actually going on than first appears. When Lucy witnesses the wonderful festival of Saint Spiridion, she becomes more involved in a way of life that is centuries old, and wishes to find out more about a family left bereaved. The subsequent events of this exciting book are full of secrets and lies, customs and revelations, and Stewart manages to maintain the tension to the very end. 


This is a book of adventure in a lovely setting. I particularly enjoyed Lucy’s conversation with Sir Julian about the Tempest and the secrets which underlie the entire book. Not being well travelled myself, I nevertheless got a firm idea of the setting, the roads, the darkness of the nights when much of the action takes place. The character of Lucy is of a determined, resourceful and brave woman, as she has to distract and react to considerable challenges. The local political situation gives an extra depth to the narrative. The locals are perhaps given a more minor role than they deserve, but one or two are crucial. This is an extremely engaging book which is truly difficult to put down once begun, an excellent read for sunny days, or to bring the sense of a beautiful island to grey days.   


I am really enjoying the Mary Stewart books I have discovered in the house, a little surprised how much if I am honest. In every book there comes a point where it is impossible to put it down, surely the sign of a truly engaging book. According to my blog list (above right on this post under “Mary Stewart”) this is the fourth of her books I have reviewed – so I am already beginning to wonder which is my favourite! Those of you who are the experts – which one would you pick?  

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart – a classic read of fast cars and deceptions from the past

Madam, Will You Talk? : Mary Stewart : 9781444711202


A thriller with car chases, people who are not who they seem, and the scenery of southern France dominate this 1955 thriller narrated in the voice of Charity Selbourne. From a hotel in a small town to the streets of a big city, this fast moving and tense classic features a lot of elements that make for an exciting novel. There are questions to be answered amid the ruins and tourist sites which Charity has come to visit, and the descriptions of the settings are so vivid as to make an unknown area truly come alive. Like Stewart’s other classic thrillers which involve murder and mystery, this is a book where the setting, with vivid descriptions of roads, hotels, even rooms, help bring to life a well plotted story. The characters, from a bright and frightened boy to a sophisticated woman are established quickly and effectively. I also enjoy the dialogue, whether full of menace or gently amusing, which is so helpful in establishing the personality of the characters as well as the progress of the story. As always with a Mary Stewart story it is easy to become involved with a well written novel and engaged with a brilliant paced story.


“The whole affair began so very quietly” The book opens with two friends, Charity and Louise, arriving and getting established in a small French hotel. Louise is a school teacher, and keen to sit and sketch, whereas Charity is a young widow, enthusiastic about visiting all the tourist spots. She is also the sort of person who enjoys people watching, guessing at nationalities, ways of behaving and so forth. She observes a boy in the courtyard of the hotel, struggling with his dog Rommel, which he has tied on a piece of string. It soon emerges that he is called David, English and apparently troubled. He is bright and articulate, but seems uneasy, especially when she suggests the name Byron when he mentions that his surname is Shelly. His apparent mother is expensively attractive, but disinterested in the boy. The humour of the book emerges in exchanges with Louise, when Charity offers to go to see the Pont du Gard, Louise answers “My dear, I’ve seen the Holborn Viaduct, life can hold no more…” Accordingly she goes alone to the city of Avignon, mindful of the story of a boy whose father was arrested for hitting him and murdering a friend. When she spots David en route she offers to take him and his dog to Avignon. The boy suddenly becomes extremely frightened, and it is when Charity is alone she has an encounter which leaves her bruised and shaken. She chooses to visit a town famous for its ruins, and while there she has a terrifying encounter, which triggers off a chase which covers many miles and discoveries. 


This is a book which is full of surprises and plot twists, as secrets from the past clash with deceptions of the present. It is a book which is extremely well plotted, which maintains the reader’s involvement in the small details and the large themes. I found it a great read, which kept my interest right until the very entertaining end. I recommend it as another engaging novel from a superb writer.  


I spent an entertaining hour or so sorting out books with my daughter today, as she gathered more of her stuff. She discovered that I had a lot of duplicates of Georgette Heyer books, and I tried to explain that as she published something like fifty novels I may have acquired mote than one copy of some. I am obviously going to have to work out some sort of checklist from Fantastic Fiction or similar if I am going to have to check the missing books! Similarly I am going to have to do something with my Mary Stewart collection – there are eighteen novels in addition to the Arthurian series. I am certainly enjoying discovering and rediscovering both authors’s books – at least until I run out of them!     

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart – a classic murder mystery thriller set on the Isle of Skye

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart


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!

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart – Wise Women, a house and animals in a story of discovery

Thornyhold: Stewart, Mary: 9781444715057: Books


“I suppose that my mother could have been a witch if she had chosen to.” So begins this clever, almost mystical book which tells the story of Gilly, or Geillis, a young woman who discovers that life is not always straightforward. A lonely child growing up in a bleak Vicarage and unfriendly schools, her childhood is transformed by the visits of her mother’s cousin, also called Geillis. Magical, and mystical, she is a woman who makes a difference with her knowledge of the world and especially plants.  Her home is the same, full of secrets and opportunities, but also attracting the interest of others. This is a lovely book, written in Gilly’s voice, explaining her sadness but also her joys of discovery. The settings of this book are not exotic, unlike some of Stewart’s other books, but it speaks of the variation in landscape culminating in the beauty of the house Thornyhold and the surrounding Wiltshire countryside. Thornyhold itself is another character in the latter part of the book, beautifully described to create an image of house and garden that speaks loudly of the women who have gone before. This is the first Stewart novel I have read in several years; produced in 1988 it is a lovely book of a time past, of postwar England.


Gilly recalls how her mother had her occupations which left her with little time or even interest in her only child, as she was a woman with a sense of the “other” from her upbringing in New Zealand. Her father was equally preoccupied with his ministry and accordingly Gilly grew up alone, with no friends in a grim mining village and not really allowed pets. Her shining memories are of Geillis, her godmother or sponsor, and her visits explaining nature, plants and glimpses of the future. When Gilly is left alone in the world, she is left to grasp at a glorious promise of a house far away from her previous homes. It does not take long to realise that there are secrets connected with the house, and perhaps quite frightening elements of her new life to sort out. Can Geillis’ affection for this lonely young woman help in a world of challenges?


Mary Stewart is an author with a sure touch for the natural world, and secrets that go beyond the obvious. Though not everything is happy and comfortable throughout her novels, she is a reassuring and yet insightful writer of place and time. This novel makes a lot of the power of women to change their world in an interesting way. I really appreciate her observation of the plants and animals in this book, how the role of herbalist and healer has always been important, and how Gilly must learn about the new world around her. Very much a comfort read, this is a novel of darkness and light, hope and love, and special people. I recommend it as a great comfort read for tricky times, an easy read about the joy of flowers and life in many senses. 


This book rates as another discovery while looking over some of my fiction shelves for a different sort of read, despite the fact that I have plenty of newer shiny hardbacks to enjoy. I suppose it shows how I mange to read several books at once, by reading from different genres and so not getting confused – that’s the idea anyway! Who knows what my next discovery (or rediscovery) may be?

Adventure, Romance – it’s all happening here

Yes, I know I’ve had another gap, spent sorting out Sons for colleges and other exciting things. It has been a bit frustrating because I read so many books while away that I’m in danger of forgetting how good they were before I post about them here. Or returning them to the library. Or lending them out ( it keeps the numbers of books down to almost, maybe manageable). One friend offered to sort them out and put them into order. Maybe she hasn’t seen how many there are ; has she got two weeks to spare?

Anyway, I’ve lent her a few books to keep her going. One of which was The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart. 

It is not the sort of book I would naturally reach for, but I noticed that this author’s books had been reprinted and were available from among others, though I picked this one up in a bargain book shop. Ever keen to mention easily available books I read this one surprisingly quickly. I had bought many years ago some of Stewart’s “Arthur” books but this one is very different.

This book features a young woman, Nicola Ferris, on holiday in a remote bit of Greece in ( I think) the 1950s. She works in Athens, so her Greek is good, which is handy when she walks into a murder scene, with attempted murder, hide and seek among caves, hills and cliffs, abduction and alpine plants. It is an adventure story, highly suitable for the younger reader as well as the not so young. It is quite a simple story, but sometimes the goodies and baddies are not so obvious, and there are many red herrings as well as (literally) cliff hangers. There is some romance, but nothing to frighten the horses, and it is more an adventure story for adults. A good book to fill a rainy afternoon, but not great literature. The sort of book to inspire a holiday choice, even if it is possibly a fictional setting. There are some adult themes here, such as a suggestion of domestic violence, which merit more thought, but to be honest it is more of a female led thriller.  It is an easy read, but well written with many twists and turns. A sort of murder mystery that works as an adventure story. Enjoyable.