Mary Stewart: Nine Coaches Waiting

Nine Coaches Waiting
Mary Stewart
First published in the UK 1958, Hodder and Stoughton
This edition 1992, Coronet Books
ISBN: 0340014393
317 pages
Score 3/5

Hmm. Mary Stewart. Turns up twice in the CWA Top 100 (as often as Rendell, McBain and Highsmith). Yet I’d never even heard of her before I started reading my way through the list. ‘Romantic suspense’ – not a genre I’ve sampled. And it’s fair to say I’d never pick up this book based on the cover, and certainly not with this blurb:

‘After a rather drab existence in an English orphanage Linda Martin is appointed governess to the nine-year-old owner of the Château Valmy in the French Alps. During little Philippe’s minority the estates are being managed by his crippled uncle Leon, and Léon’s handsome son Raoul.’

So, what would I make of this ‘wonderful novel of suspense and intrigue’?

Linda’s new life is ostensibly idyllic – ‘The shadow of the Constance Butcher Home for Girls dwindled and shrank to nothing in the Savoyard light’ – but it is clear from the very beginning that Philippe’s life is uncomfortable, leading Linda to draw parallels with her time  in the orphanage:

‘As a cosy family home the Chateau Valmy certainly took some beating. The Constance Butcher also ran.’

The move from awkwardness to actual threat is gradual but seems inevitable once the characters have been established.

Linda is not quite the ideal heroine. She has lied to get the governess job in the first place, concealing her French heritage because the Valmys wanted an English native. She only comes clean once lying has become untenable. She gossips and is smug and (reading between the lines) a little vain. However, she genuinely loves Philippe and, once she suspects his life is in danger after a near-miss ‘hunting accident’, she moves heaven and earth to protect him.

Raoul is handsome and strong and cruel and drives his car masterfully and is exactly the sort of love interest I’d expect to find in a Mills and Boon novel. What saves him as a character is the question of his complicity in the threat to Philippe, moving him from one-dimensional love interest to something more complex. The Linda-Raoul romance is coloured by this complexity and by their differing levels of experience.

‘For a first kiss it was, I suppose, a fairly shattering experience. And certainly not such stuff as dreams are made on … If Cinderella was out, so decidedly was Prince Charming…’

However without question, Philippe’s Uncle Léon, wheelchair-bound, arrogant and self-centred, master if not officially lord of all he surveys, is the most memorable character, trundling in soundlessly like a pantomime villain and dominating everybody he speaks to (except Raoul obviously).

‘I heard nothing. I turned quickly. Even then it was a second or two before I saw the shadow detach itself from the other shadows and slide forward… But. once there, Léon de Valmy was an object for no-one’s pity; one saw simply a big, handsome, powerful man who from his wheel-chair managed without speaking a word to obliterate everybody else in the hall… Then I told myself sharply not to be a fool. Just because the man looked like Milton’s ruined archangel and chose to appear in the hall like the Demon King through a trapdoor, it didn’t necessarily mean that I had to smell sulphur.’

Nine Coaches Waiting was very much better than I suspected, but ultimately not my cup of tea.

Final destination: Sold on Green Metropolis

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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6 Responses to Mary Stewart: Nine Coaches Waiting

  1. Maxine says:

    She was very popular when I was at school (long after 1958!) among the girls who liked reading romance books, so I never read her (I was into more interesting works such as Conan Doyle, Josephine Tey and so on). Did I read somewhere that Evelyn Anthony took over her “torch”, so to speak? Not that I liked the couple of Evelyn Anthony novels I read (The Tamarind Seed and another one). Nice review, thanks – gives me a sense of what I’ve been missing all these years!

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  2. Thanks for your review, Rich, as you have reminded me of an author who I loved when I was a teenager but whose books I haven’t read for a while. I also loved the M.M. Kaye series of books, Death in … (insert exotic location here), which had a similar tone.

    I am puzzled by her inclusion in this list, though, as I wouldn’t say that she is a great crime writer and neither is Nine Coaches Waiting one of my favourites (although I did enjoy the other on the list, My Brother Michael, more). I would go back and read Mary Stewart as a comfort read – and indeed I might now – but I always felt that the romance element had more primacy than the mystery. if I fancied reading a book with a plucky, endangered heroine who is romantically involved with a hunky hero of ambiguous ethics (who usually proves to be a good guy in the end), then she would probably be my author of choice. But if I was more in the mood for a mystery/crime novel, then she wouldn’t have been my first choice and I’m not even sure she would have been in my top 100.

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  3. Keishon says:

    I’m a romance reader and loved this book and have enjoyed other titles by her. I am like Amy though puzzled by her inclusion on this list. Also, I am or was trying to read my way down the CWA list as well. I must check off which titles I’ve read already.

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    • westwoodrich says:

      Thanks for the comments everyone. Mary Stewart seems to be more well known than I thought!

      I think the CWA gave its members categories to vote in, then collated all the category votes to make a single list. Hence two Mary Stewart titles in the top 100, because she’s popular in the ‘romantic suspense’ category. Hence also the thrillers and espionage titles in the list. Following the list will force me to read a bit more widely so it’s probably a good thing.

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  4. Pingback: Pick of the month: March 2012 | Past Offences

  5. Pingback: Mary Stewart: My Brother Michael | Past Offences

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