My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–if you like old-school romantic suspense, then Mary Stewart is the author for you. And out of all her various novels I’ve read, Nine Coaches Waiting stands out as one of the most solid. I’ve often found Stewart’s work to be almost more about the scenery than about the actual plot, but not so here. Her prose is as lush in this work as it is in any other, and happily, there’s an excellent little plot to give it heft.
Linda Martin is a young Englishwoman taking on the position of governess to a nine-year-old French count. As with any good Gothic suspense novel, this means we’ve got the obligatory remote setting along with the governess in question, as well as the obligatory cast of potential threats to our heroine’s life as well as that of her young charge. We have the young count’s charismatic uncle, confined to a wheelchair. We have the uncle’s son Raoul, who serves the role of the obligatory love interest. And, we have the obligatory mysterious attacks on the young Count Philippe–and ultimately, how Linda must choose to handle them.
You might think this is a historical novel with Linda being a governess. Don’t. The name “Linda” is certainly a giveaway that this novel is set in a timeframe contemporary to the author’s own lifetime, as is the presence of cars and other modern-at-the-time technology. But that said, it’s historical in the sense of being over 50 years ago; the book was, after all, first published in 1958. This might make it feel dated to some readers, yet, what with the classic Gothic elements in the plot, I found it all strangely and pleasantly timeless.
As with most other Stewart novels, the pacing here is not terribly intense, but that’s quite alright. I found the increasing urgency about the life of young Philippe fraught with tension, eventually overshadowing Linda’s initial concern about hiding her own childhood in France. Philippe’s uncle Leon is compelling, all the more so for the force of his personality being constrained by his physical limitations. My only real beef with the book at all is that I found the chemistry between Linda and Raoul almost perfunctory, as well as the brief appearance of another male character who, in a more modern novel, might have served as a rival love interest. Yet, even that was ultimately fine and contributed to the novel’s overall timeless feel.
All in all, check this out if you get a chance. It’s a nice switch from a lot of more modern novels, indeed. Four stars.