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4.3 out of 5 stars37
4.3 out of 5 stars
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 28 October 2012
This is Lady Stewart's début novel and, having read fifteen of her other works, I came to this book with fairly low expectations. What a happy surprise to find an absolutely excellent story which, way back in 1955, deservedly catapulted the author into best-selling status. If you are familiar with Stewart's later work, you will spot here and there places where the more mature word-smith would have done something even slicker, but this is a minor quibble and it seemed to me that the narrative improved as it went along and the slightly awkward bits are all near the start. These stories are representative of their time and offer some fascinating glimpses into behaviours that we now find surprising. Cigarette smoking, for example, was such an ubiquitous activity that here it is even used as a plot device.

The action takes place over a period of a few days in the South of France, in the aftermath of WW2 when its bleak spectre is still casting a pall over Europe. Charity, a young war-widow, and her friend Louise, an art teacher, have just driven from the UK to Avignon for a much-anticipated holiday. A chance encounter with a boy and his dog affect Charity deeply because she senses in the youngster a painful maturity at odds with his naturally ebullient personality. Very soon she finds herself enmeshed in a web of danger and deception, as a suspected murderer scours the countryside looking for the boy David.

On top of some masterfully fleshed out characters, an unusually prominent role is played by the touring car of the 40's, represented by a selection of the best: Riley, Mercedes and Bentley. Even if classic cars are not your thing, the narrative is compelling and the chase sequences particularly vivid. The descriptive powers for which Mary Stewart became so well known, are employed here with effective restraint while the fast action drives the book to a very satisfactory conclusion. Personally, I like it when all the loose ends are tied up and this story is wrapped up to perfection. For some reason as I was reading, I imagined a film version featuring the young Grace Kelly and Sean Connery ... wonderfully vintage.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2012
This was the author's first book, published originally back in 1955. It is very much a tale of its times - the regular lighting of cigarettes seems so incongruous to the modern reader. The feisty and resourceful war-widow heroine, on a driving holiday to Provence, becomes embroiled in a complex plot of murder and mayhem - to say more would spoil the fun! Don't expect realistic romance - think old Hollywood movie - but this isn't about realism, it's about relaxing into a forgotten era and enjoying every escapist page of it.

Incidentally, if I were banished to a desert island with a crate full of books, a collection of Mary Stewart books would be amongst my choices! Mind you, thinking of the other books I'd want in there, it would have to be a very big crate.......
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2001
I picked up this book at a jumble sale, and I've since become a fan of Mary Stewart, so was glad to see that they've been reissued. Although they're old fashioned now, they're still very enjoyable, and Madam ... is no exception, despite not matching my favourite, This Rough Magic.
The heroine, Charity, is holidaying in France when she becomes involved with David, a young boy, whose father was arrested for murder, and is now trying to track down his son. Although David's fear of meeting his father seems understandable, Charity finds that there's a lot more going on, and his beautiful stepmother, the handsome French antique dealer, and the English man who reads T.S. Elliot all seem to be involved. Most confusing of all are the feelings she has for David's father, despite the fact that she believes him to be a murderer...
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to spend a few hours of pleasurable escapism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2014
A classic thriller, very much a product of its time, i.e. set soon after World War II, when it was considered - and probably was! - quite dangerous to engage in a car chase at 65-70 mph, whereas on modern roads and in modern vehicles such speeds are commonplace. The plot, while comparatively simple and summarised in true detective style in only a few pages at the end, was made exciting by the way that some of the characters changed unexpectedly from 'goodies' to 'baddies' or vice versa. I found myself reading the majority of the book on a ferry, where normally I tend to spend the time watching other people, and I was so absorbed that a) I hadn't realised just how many pages I had read in the time; and b) I found myself totally shut off from all that was going on around me. While to a small degree this may have been due to having personally visited some of the places featured, far more likely it was due to the fast-moving narrative style, and the precise and un-florid language. It's certainly a page-turner, although it's almost sixty years since it was first published!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2012
This lovely book will never pall on me but I detect interference with the text: Charity certainly did not wake to a room dredged with sunlight but a room that was drenched with sunlight.

Having read Mary Stewart's books in the printed editions many times, albeit not for a few years, I am sufficiently familiar with the text to feel uncomfortable from time to time as I encounter small, inexplicable alterations, even though I csnnot pinpoint them.

I am not sure how books are transferred to Kindle, but if text is being re-entered then someone is not checking carefully enough.

I had exactly the same sensation a few years ago when rereading Georgette Heyer's books in new imprints and found some very careless editing had been carried out, including the incorrect rewriting of a letter in "These Old Shades" such that the subsequent text became nonsensical.

Why not just pdf the originals? At least that way, any errors will be true to the original text.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2013
Absolutely love Mary Stewart's novels and have to say this was not one of her best. Perhaps because it is a bit dated
and predictable but then I understand it was her first book. Still enjoyed it though and have to say secretly enjoyed the "dated" bit. All that smoking - they were lighting up every five minutes! How times have changed. It was a bit "VINTAGEY" like watching an old black and white movie.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 2013
This is my favourite Mary Stewart book - mainly because I adore the South of France and it contains detailed references to many of the places I know and love. But it is also an excellent read and keeps you on your toes until the very end.
I bought this copy to replace an older and now worn out edition. Even though I know the outcome of the story, I can read it over and over again!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2011
While there are other Mary Stewart books that I have enjoyed more, this was still a good read. We have two young women holidaying in France. One is rather lazy and just likes to sit around, while the other, our heroine, likes a more active sight-seeing based holiday. No surprise then, that her explorations lead her into mystery and danger. She meets a young boy in the same hotel and is quickly drawn into his life and problems. What follows is an exciting and exhausting chase with many twists and turns (both literally - in the wild Provencal countryside - and metaphorically). As with many M.S. books there is a touch of romance, and of course, all is not quite as it appears.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2001
Mary Stewart's books are now a little dated, in that her heroines are very much of their period in the sense of their careers and life aspirations, but her novels are pure escapist pleasure, and far better written than the average of the genre.
This particular example has all of her typical ingredients: a strong sense of place, a believable and very "knowable" heroine, a brooding male lead and a well constructed plot. The pace is particularly finely judged, building skilfully from a languid sunny holiday start.
Highly recommended and a great introduction to her (non-Arthurian) early work. Don't be put off her thillers if you have been underwhelmed by her more recent offerings - I find them tedious and sentimental, which could never be said of earlier work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2012
Excellent in every way. Mary Stewart writes with a literary style all her own. The plot gradually thickens and the closing chapters are so gripping that one is reluctant to put the book down ! I have become a Mary Stewart addict !
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