I've heard of it many times over the years -- it was first published in 1958 -- but it was only when Gudrun's Tights, a blog I read regularly had a Mary Stewart Week that I decided to see what the fuss was all about. As usual I'm a bit late to actually do so on Mary Stewart Week, but better late or something.
The book doesn't fit into any one category. It's a bit Gothic but nothing supernatural is going on. It's a sort of murder mystery but no one is actually murdered. And it's a thriller in that people are in danger and trying to elude other people who wish them harm. With a classic romantic story threaded through it.
The heroine, Linda Martin, had an English father and a French mother and she lived in Paris until, when she was 14, her parents were killed in a car crash. Having no relatives, Linda ended up in an orphanage. When the story opens it is nearly 10 years later and she is hired by Mme de Valmy to be governess to her nephew, also an orphan, whose parents died in a plane crash. Young Phillipe, Comte de Valmy, has all too many relatives.
Linda pretends not to know French because her employer suggests it would be better if she did not so that she wouldn't be tempted to lapse into that language instead of teaching Phillipe English. This seems a bit peculiar to Linda but as she badly wants this job she presents herself as wholly English with no knowledge of the French language.
She loves her charge and they get along together very well. She also loves the chateau Valmy. It belongs to the child and is being taken care of by his uncle Leon. We are told early on that Leon expected to inherit from his now deceased brother. However, the brother married unexpectedly and had a son, Phillipe, and Leon is infuriated.
Linda remembers years ago her father saying about Leon, who is now in a wheelchair after a polo accident, " . . . I can't help thinking it's a pity he didn't break his neck. He'd be no loss. . . . I detest him." When Linda meets the man she is nearly mesmerized by his sinister charm.
But it's when Leon's son, Raoul, arrives that things begin to heat up.
A wonderful book in the 1950s style, heavy on plot and characterization. Why did I wait so long to read it? And which Mary Stewart will I read next?