Most helpful positive review
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Surprising how good this is
on 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.