Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart (1955)

          It’s a hot sunny day in Paris (finally! Heaven knows we’ve waited long enough for summer to reach us!), so it seems only fitting I should talk about another hot sunny day – or rather, series of days – in Provence, in the nineteen fifties.

     I discovered Madam, Will You Talk? on another blog and it was, I confess, the beautiful new book cover Hodder & Stoughton designed for the novel’s reissue that seduced me. Such is the power of appearances! I had never heard of Mary Stewart before but a quick Google search revealed she is a well-known mystery and crime fiction writer, that she has been hugely successful ever since the publication of Madam, Will You Talk? in 1955, and that one of her other novels was even made into a Hollywood film starring Haley Mills. Though I was a little apprehensive about the mention of crime fiction, the lure of Provence proved too strong…

     Charity Selborne is a grieving young war widow holidaying in Avignon with her friend Louise. They have just arrived at the Hôtel Tistet-Védène, and are looking forward to long siestas and aperitifs in the shady courtyard. Louise wants to laze around in the shade, sipping cold drinks and sketching the surrounding countryside. Charity, who is of a more adventurous turn of mind, has plans to visit all the historic sites in the area. Neither of them expects much to happen to them.

     Then Charity makes the acquaintance of thirteen-year-old David, who is staying at the hotel with his beautiful French step-mother, and before she knows it, she is embroiled in a shocking murder mystery involving David’s father. When she realizes that David himself is the murderer’s next target, her desire to protect the boy overrules all common sense. The mystery thickens even more when Charity overhears a conversation between David’s step-mother, Loraine, and a mysterious man. And while being on the run from a murderer makes Loraine understandably anxious, that doesn’t explain why David is so hostile towards her.

     Then, out of the blue, Charity herself comes face to face with the murderer. And, in an unexpected twist, she ends up throwing her lot in with him. But lying in store for her are kidnappings, high speed car chases, bribery, and a lot of fortuitous eavesdropping and hair-breadth escapes, before she can save David, get rid of the murderer, and finally draw breath long enough to accept an unlooked-for proposal of marriage and live happily ever after!

     I had so much fun reading Madam, Will You Talk? It took me back to the days when I would lie on my bed and devour Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries with exactly the same delicious thrill of terror – I was on the very edge of my seat, my heart knocking so hard against my ribs I could hardly breathe, yet all the while, at the back of my mind, I half-knew everything would turn out all right in the end! Mary Stewart’s writing is wonderful: there is humour, there is suspense, there is romance, and her descriptions of the Provençal landscape are wonderfully atmospheric. I am hooked, and cannot wait to get my hands on all her other books!

© Florence Berlioz 2011

About Miss Darcy's Library

I love books - buying books, reading books, discussing books, and generally admiring them from all angles (except the e-book). I also love tea, roses, and my dogs, and seldom pass up an opportunity to slip them into the conversation.
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13 Responses to Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart (1955)

  1. Anbolyn says:

    I’d never heard of Mary Stewart, either – this sounds amazing! It is the perfect summer read, a book for lazy, hot days when you just want to stay inside to escape the heat and be transported to a different world. And the cover is gorgeous!

  2. You can order all the Mary Stewarts on The Book Depository or directly from Hodder and Stoughton – I’ve looked at both sites and they both have those beautiful covers, each with a different Dior-dressed heroine 🙂
    P.S. I love your name! My mum is fascinated by Henry VIII and his wives, so I grew up hearing a lot about Anne Boleyn!

  3. Iris says:

    I admit, it was the cover that made me come over to read your review and convinced me I would like it until I read “crime fiction writer” since that isn’t a genre I normally prefer. Hmm.. the cover is still lovely though!

  4. Trust me, Iris, I don’t like crime fiction either! I usually flee in the other direction when the words are mentioned 🙂 Perhaps I should have used words like detective story instead – much softer and less scary for people like us! There’s nothing gory or disgusting in this, and the suspense is of the right sort, not the kind that makes you sick…

  5. FleurFisher says:

    It was only when these reissues appeared that I remembered my mother used to love Mary Stewart, and I always meant to try her books. This sounds wonderful, and I have just started Wildfire at Midnight and my response is very similar to yours to this book. I strongly suspect that I will be hooked too.

    And isn’t it lovely that Mary Stewart’s books have been reissued in her lifetime, and being received so warmly?

  6. I know! So many artists are left quietly gathering dust in a corner once they reach a certain age, and I always feel it’s so sad when people say: “Oh So-and-so is still alive? I had no idea!” I’m thrilled the same isn’t happening to Mary Stewart – she’s still writing and publishing, and generally making us sit up and take notice, and I love that!
    Wildfire at Midnight is the next on my list – please tell me what you think of it! I can’t wait to read it…

  7. limr says:

    After reading this, I can’t wait to read this book. You already made it sound so good, but it also made me think of a book I read many years ago called The Moonspinners. For some reason, I didn’t think it was Mary Stewart, but I checked Google and there it was. And it was even the book that you mentioned that had been made into a movie with Hayley Mills. I loved the book and still have the ragged little paperback on my shelves. Now I’m even more excited about Madam, Will You Talk?

  8. I love coincidences like that! Was Moonspinners any good? If you liked it, then it’s going straight onto my list as well!

    • limr says:

      I remember really enjoying it, and it has stayed with me for all these years. The only thing I’ll say is that the plot seems a little similar to Madame, Will You Talk? A young English woman on vacation in Greece (there’s someone else with her, or she’s visiting family friends who are expats there…I think she might be a student of Greek? I can’t remember exactly.) She stumbles across a crime, gets all caught up in it, realizes a ‘bad guy’ is really a ‘good guy’, and all is well in the end. I think it’s worth the read, but I do now wonder her books get a bit formulaic. But I still feel like re-reading The Moonspinners now, and then Madame, Will You Talk?.

    • theresa says:

      Moonspinners ‘the movie’ is awful and not a credit to the book at all. Moonspinners is a great book, loved all Mary Stewart’s books. I re-read them over and over. Read also ‘My Brother Michael’, very good and ‘Nine coaches waiting’… excellent, don’t know why these books haven’t been made into movies, they would translate very well.

  9. Yes, when I was looking up her books, I did notice that the Englishwoman on holiday was a common theme, but I don’t mind! As long as the plots aren’t all exactly the same and I am kept guessing until the end, I’m happy 🙂

  10. Pingback: Thornyhold by Mary Stewart « Gudrun's Tights

  11. Pingback: Retro Friday: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart | Chachic's Book Nook

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