I recently picked up my copy of Madam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart’s first Romantic Suspense book originally published in 1955, on a whim with the thought that I’d read just a bit and then put it down. Well, once I was past the introduction of most of the players, I just couldn’t.
Set in the south of France, we meet the assorted people on holiday at the Hotel Tistet-Vedene through the eyes of Charity Selborne, a widow on holiday from England, and the gossip of her friend and former teaching colleague, Louisa. Soon, a bit of a mystery emerges and Charity finds herself feeling protective of a potential kidnap victim, David Shelley, the thirteen year-old son of a purported murderer.
Descriptive passages sweep the reader along as Charity’s efforts to protect David develop into a cat and mouse chase through Provence. Handily, her deceased husband taught her to drive at high speeds prior to World War II. Coincidences and (now) cliches abound, but as the plot thickens and the involvement of former Nazis and collaborators are revealed, what do they matter? Though this did throw me for a moment, and I had to stop and consider that this was written as a contemporary novel in 1955 and so such characters are plausible for the time period.
The romance, when it happens, is sudden, abrupt, implausible, and highly enjoyable. As it continues, it is still slightly hard to accept from a modern frame of mind, but great fun if put into the context of the times along with the historical “sophistication” of cigarette smoking and lots of it.
Smartly written, I quite enjoyed even the various instances of “If I’d only known then, it would have all been different” that from a modern author would likely engender a vastly different response. Modern suspense can be a bit stressful, but when partly approached informed by various movies of the time and as a piece of 20th century nostalgia, Mary Stewart’s version in all of its twists, turns, and predictability, is a great deal of fun.
A very promising start to my intended read-through of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels in publication order, after having first read Stormy Petrel, her second to last published in the genre.
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart | Hodder & Stoughton, 2017 | paperback, 292 pages (plus a teaser chapter of her 1956 book, Wildfire at Midnight)
This review refers to a copy I purchased through Book Depository. I was expecting a different cover, and though it is growing on me, I still find the fact that the illustration is from 1934 and only matches the text in that it is a woman driving to be a bit irritating.
From the publisher:
Whenever I look back now on the strange and terrifying events of that holiday in Southern France, I remember the minutes I spent gazing at the golden arches of the Roman aqueduct over the Gardon…the last brief lull before the thunder.
It sounds idyllic: a leisurely drive through the sun-drenched landscape of Provence. But Charity’s dream holiday turns into a nightmare when she becomes embroiled in a sinister plot to kidnap a young boy. She soon finds herself in a deadly pursuit and must uncover who to trust…and who to fall for.