The Ivy Tree (by Mary Stewart)

In re-reading books by some of my favourite authors, I’m trying to vary the genres somewhat. So after some modern light romances, I decided to re-read one of the books I previously enjoyed by Mary Stewart. She was a writer who helped to develop the ‘romantic mystery’ style in the mid-20th century, and her books usually contain some low-key tension, enough to label them as thrillers, but without overt unpleasantness.

‘The Ivy Tree’ is narrated by a woman in her late twenties whom we meet wandering around an estate near Newcastle. She is accosted by an angry young man who thinks he recognises her, although she insists that he is mistaken.

To say anything more about the plot would be to give spoilers. It’s a very cleverly written book, and although I have read it at least once before (fourteen years ago) I could not remember the outcome at all. There’s deception, and low-key blackmail, and threats to safety… and there’s also some great characterisation. The main story revolves around the potential inheritance of a house and some money, to be left by an elderly man who is in poor health after a stroke.

While there’s a tad more descriptive detail than I like, it’s very well-written, in a way that kept me guessing and even changing my mind several times until the last few chapters. Inevitably it feels somewhat old-fashioned; first published in 1961, it’s long before the era of computers and mobile phones. But there’s much that feels modern in terms of people’s emotions, and some surprisingly open discussions about intimacies and infidelities, given the era of writing.

I found it quite tense in places, so was glad that I spent much of Sunday reading it, rather than keeping it for bedtime reading. The climax is exciting and somewhat unpleasant, but there aren’t too many gory details.

All in all, I liked the book very much. Recommended if you like mild thrillers from the 1960s about strong-minded women who don’t object to a bit of deception.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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