29/08/2011

Mary Stewart omnibus: Rose Cottage, Stormy Petrel, Thornyhold

Wandering around UK charity shops over a year ago, I was delighted to come across this volume which contains three novels by the prolific Mary Stewart, who is now in her nineties. It's a little daunting, with well over 600 pages, so it sat on my shelves for some time until I picked it up about ten days ago.

I had not previously read - or even heard of - the first two books: Rose Cottage, and Stormy Petrel. I had previously read Thornyhold in 2006 but had entirely forgotten the plot.

All three of these novels are in themselvesl fairly short, light stories set in the middle of the 20th century. Each one has a first-person narrator, a touch of suspense, an extremely low-key romance, and some great characterisation. They all feature specific houses, too.

In the first book, 'Rose Cottage', Kate is asked by her grandmother to find some items (mostly documents) left in a cottage. Kate was brought up by her grandmother and wants to do all she can to help her - then discovers that the house was apparently broken into, and the safe where the documents were has been opened, by key, so they are all gone. Mysteries abound, not helped by some talkative elderly ladies who spread rumours, until all is resolved happily.

In 'Stormy Petrel', Rose, who is a lecturer in Cambridge, goes on holiday to a remote cottage in the Hebrides to do some writing. Her brother is supposed to join her after a few days, but is unable to do so. She is startled when two young men appear - separately - on her doorstep during a storm, and is caught up in various tensions. There's rather a lot of description about bird-watching in this book, most of which I skimmed, but the story is exciting, and I found it quite gripping.

In 'Thornyhold', Geillis inherits a house from her godmother, and it seems as if some of her neighbours think that she is a witch. Strange things happen, some surreal - or perhaps dreamed - and it's almost impossible to know who can be trusted. I particularly liked 11-year-old William, an intelligent and lonely child who makes friends with Geillis and helps her greatly.

In all three books, the writing is very good, the stories fast-paced, the main characters sympathetic. I was pleased to find that the people I felt were untrustworthy were in fact the not-so-good guys each time; Mary Stewart has a gift for unfolding a story so well from the protagonist's point of view that I felt almost as if I were living in each one's shoes, learning about new people and situations alongside them.

The tensions in all the stories come from not knowing who can be trusted, but unlike some of the author's other novels, none of them could be described as thrillers.

Recommended. This particular volume is not currently in print, but the individual books are.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 28th August 2011

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