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