Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Revisiting old books: Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

Because I had been reminded of Madam Will You Talk? which is set in Arles, I asked my youngest to get out from the Lit and Phil. Unfortunately it had been shelved wrong, so he returned home with another Mary Stewart -- Wildfire at Midnight. It was written in 1956 and set in 1953, during the coronation.
The heroine has the glamorous career of an in-store model and wants to escape the Coronation hoopla. When her mother suggests a hotel on Skye, Gianetta leaps at the chance. Unfortunately, the hotel is harbouring a murderer (the other inhabitants have been there for a few weeks) and Gianetta's ex.
I must have read this about 35 years ago as my school library was very good on Mary Stewart. What struck me this time was how many times people lit cigarettes. Practically every scene, the characters stop and light a cigarette. Yes I know people smoked but it was the sheer repetition of the gesture that got me. At one point, I expected the characters to get together and start discussing exactly how many tabs they had left and therefore how long they could hold before the mystery needed to be solved or one of them started to have withdrawal symptoms!
There is little sexual tension between Gianetta and her ex-husband or indeed between Gianetta and the villian of the piece. The ex husband is supposed to be jealous of the villain who turns out to be a mad man but who was trying to romance Gianetta. He did have a handy supply of cigerettes though....
 Gianetta ends up with her ex. who snarls 'You bloody little fool.' before explaining everything, including the misunderstanding where she thought he was sleeping with an actress. No she was kissing him and he left. The actress was having an affair with another man.
There were several times when Gianetta deserved the Too Stupid to Live label and I didn't quite understand why the police would leave her in charge of a severely ill woman who was a potential witness in the case.

What Stewart does well is to provide a sense of the place. I may not have been to Skye but I have stayed in hotels in the Highlands as well as in Snowdonia and the Lake District. They do operate under their own rules.

It was interesting re-reading it but I can see novel writing, in particular romantic suspense has really moved on. But oh how I loved Mary Stewart once upon a time.
Georgette Heyer seems to wear better for some reason. Perhaps it is because she was writing a historical rather than a contemporary.


Helena said...

Wildfire at Midnight was never the best Mary Stewart, in my view. But please do give her another try! I think she holds up pretty well, and she is still one of my favourite authors. Do try Madam, Will you Talk?

Isn't it interesting how ubiquitous smoking was then? I always notice it when I watch old films.

Michelle Styles said...

Oh I intend to keep my eyes out for Madam Will YOu Talk? I was annoyed about the Lit and Phil not having it as their catalogue did say it was avaialble.
My fave Mary Stewart was Touch Not the Cat. And there was My Brother Micheal which was set in Greece.
I thought it interesting about the smoking at first and then the repetition became irritating as the gesture didn't add much to the story. (It is something my editors pull me up on -- my tendency to repeat gestures so I tend to notice now).
Mary Stewart still remains a firm fave from way back.

Barbara Monajem said...

Wildfire at Midnight is my favourite Mary Stewart! It's fun how preferences differ so much. I also loved Nine Coaches Waiting. Oh, and a bunch of others. I think maybe the Celtic mythology in Wildfire at Midnight is one thing that appeals to me. (And yes, isn't it strange how often people smoke in those old stories!!)