Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Murder in the mountains

Wildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart

After a lot of waffling, this was the book I chose first for Mary Stewart Reading Week, hosted by Anbolyn of Gudrun's Tights.  What finally decided me was the setting: the Isle of Skye.  Right now cool mists and rain sound wonderful to me in hot drought-locked Houston.  And then the brief back-cover blurb on my Hodder edition was very intriguing:
Gianetta is hoping for a tranquil interlude on the Isle of Skye. Bruised by divorce from her writer husband, she seeks solace in the island's savage beauty. But a vicious murder throws the community into confusion - and then her ex-husband arrives . . .

The blurb isn't quite accurate, but at least it doesn't give too much of the plot away.  Gianetta Drury doesn't go to Skye to recover from the divorce, but as a holiday from her demanding job as a mannequin with a major fashion house, and to escape London in the frenzy of the Coronation festivities.  When she arrives at the Camas Fhionnnaridh Hotel on the south side of the island, she finds her ex-husband Nicholas already in residence, along with other guests who spend their time fishing and climbing.

I liked Gianetta from the start, and this book has many familiar Mary Stewart elements (like a brooding sarcastic hero).  But I have to admit that I didn't really enjoy it, though it kept me reading to the end, to find the solution to the murder.  Mary Stewart clearly knows and loves Skye.  Like Dorothy L. Sayers in Gaudy Night, she includes a note of apology for altering some of the terrain in aid of her plot.  Her descriptions of the scenery, the mountains that ring the horizon, the river winding down to the sea loch - as always they are lyrical.  The mountains in particular play an important part in her plot, one that I found really difficult to follow.  There were too many mountains, too many names, and quite a lot of time was spent going up and down them.  There were too many people staying at the hotel.  I probably should have made a list, but I gave up trying to keep them straight.  I found the murders in this book very unpleasant, and when the motive was finally revealed, I had a hard time taking it seriously.  In the end there was a major plot element left unexplained (how one intended victim escaped), which annoyed me.  I also had some reservations about the romantic resolution and feel strongly that both parties need some serious counseling.

I see that other people have chosen this book, including my hostess (eep), and I'm looking forward to reading other reviews, which may help me appreciate it more.  In the meantime, I think I'm off to the Crystal Cave.


  1. Oh my, this made me laugh! No, I feel much the same way you did. I really liked it at first and thought that it was going to be a good old murder mystery, but, yes, the descriptions of the various mountains are just too much and the solution was meh. I decided to read Nine Coaches Waiting right after because I wanted a better Stewart experience and, thankfully, I got that! Wildfire at Midnight is not one of her best, I'm afraid.

  2. I hesitated a bit about posting this, especially on her birthday! But our second books are both turning out better - Nine Coaches Waiting is one of my favorites.

  3. I haven't read this one yet so I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it. I've been reading Stormy Petrel for the reading week and it also has a beautiful Scottish setting but a very different type of plot!

  4. Thank you for helping to prioritize my Mary Stewart wish list ;-)

  5. Helen, it's always a bit disconcerting, with an author I enjoy, to find that I don't enjoy all her books equally!

    JoAnn, your mileage may vary, as they say :) but this one is definitely toward the bottom of my list.

  6. You made me giggle! The thing that irritated me most about this book was that old ploy of quite casually going out alone on a foggy mountain when you know there's a crazy killer out there. DON'T DO IT!! I totally agree about not enjoying all books equally. Everyone loves Nine Coaches Waiting and it annoyed the hell out of me (my mental shouting here was 'GROW SOME SPINE!') Ditto Touch Not the Cat which was too supernatural for my tastes. *But* I still liked the writing and that comforting familiarity that things will work out fine, so I can't say I've had a 'bad' one at all.

  7. I thought that I had read this one but I have no recollection of it. I really enjoyed your honest and funny post, now I'm going to read it at some point as I'm intrigued.

  8. I must confess that this was the first Mary Stewart I tried and I gave up because I couldn't keep track of all those hotel guests. So you did better than me, and I've discovered since that Mary Stewart wrote much better books.

  9. vicki, she kept *thinking* it was dangerous to go out alone with a killer on the moors - I mean mountain - and then she did it anyway!

    Katrina, I'm glad I haven't put you totally off it :) I managed to buy two copies in a moment of cluelessness, I could send you one!

    Jane, it was a combination on being stuck on the bus with nothing else to read, and then sheer stubbornness, I was going to finish it & find out who the Murderer was (since I was pretty sure who he wasn't).


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!