Sunday, November 09, 2014

20. Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

I see now that several of her romantic
thrillers are published in this style. 
Collection addiction stimulated!
I'm very angry at myself, because I found this really nice copy in the dollar book bin in front of the same used bookstore where I bought The Deal.  This time, the owner was sitting on a stool just inside the doorway, writing prices on the inside cover of books from a new shipment.  The story is overcrowded at the best of times, but on this day there were so many stacks of books that I could not walk through without taking my backpack off.  Classic used bookstore owner.  But I digress.  I am angry at myself because after keeping the book safely on my shelf I stupidly put it into my jacket pocket when going out to a friend's house in case I got stuck with time to kill and no reading material.  And of course, the spine got bent.  I still have so much to learn about myself.

Anyhow, Wildfire at Midnight is a well-written thriller with a plucky and beautiful British heroine, which is undermined by a painfully sexist romantic demoument.  It was Stewart's second novel, written in 1956, so I can excuse the gender politics somewhat, but it was just so disappointing.  The heroine is a divorced model who decides to take a vacation in Skye, rugged Northern country that draws anglers and climbers.  When she gets to the isolated and charming country inn, after meeting an attractive local outdoors enthusiast on the boat ride over, she immediately discovers that her ex-husband is staying there.  She also learns that there has been a gruesome, ritualistic murder of a local girl on a nearby mountain.  What follows is a thriller as more murders happen and nobody staying in the inn is above suspicion.


The sexual politics that were so frustrating is that her ex-husband acts like a total dick the whole time, even to the point of being so aggressively creepy that she thinks he is the killer (and Stewart leads the reader into suspecting him as well).  Of course, it turns out that he isn't and he even sort of saves her and then there is this really terrible scene where he declares his love for her and she realizes she still loves him and its all suddenly hunky-dory.  The whole idea of being divorced is presented as an untenable choice throughout the book and that it is superior to marry the jerky manipulator than to just stay single even if you are a beautiful, smart, brave and hardworking woman.

The other disappointment was that the mystery of the murders wasn't complex at all.  There was no link between the murdered and the potentially interesting conflicts among the guests at the inn.  He was basically just a psycho.  So there was nothing for the reader to dig into and try and guess who or why was responsible.  Finally, I guessed it about halfway through because Stewart's double blinds were too obvious.  Again, only her second book and the descriptions of the locale (which I would love to visit) evocative and the characters rich.  And the psycho is into some old-school Wicker Man style paganism, which is cool.

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