One of the best things about starting this blog has been the conversations that arise in response to posts – people asking questions and sharing insights on Mary Stewart’s writing. Recently, emails have been speeding to and fro between myself and Annabel Frazer. Annabel is the author of The Day the Earth Caught Cold (see here for the novel’s amazon page), and she is really knowledgeable on Mary Stewart. Click here for Annabel’s Goodreads page. She has written a review of Mary Stewart’s 1991 novel, Stormy Petrel, here:

“Stormy Petrel is one of only two Mary Stewart romantic thrillers set in Scotland – given that she lived in Scotland for so much of her life it’s odd that there aren’t more. And it has to be said that in my view Stormy Petrel does not compare well with its predecessor, Wildfire At Midnight.

 As always, the book begins with a young woman embarking, whether she knows it or not, on an adventure. Rose Fenemore is a Cambridge don who needs time to write and decides to go and stay on a remote Scottish island. I must admit that I struggle to warm to the idea of a heroine who is a teacher (see also Charity Selborne and Camilla Haven) and I can’t help feeling it’s a little annoyingly smug of Rose to be at Cambridge, no less. (Yet I don’t mind Gianetta Brooke being a supermodel in Wildfire – double standards?)

At any rate, the setting, as always with a Mary Stewart, is beautifully evoked. A distant Scottish isle with mists and sands and half-ruined cottages, it feels remote and bleak – but also a little cosy, it has to be said. There’s something reminiscent of a children’s story in the cosy interactions of the island community.

 Mystery is slow in unfolding on the island of Moila – and rather small-scale when it comes. If you enjoy reading about pathological killers and war criminals and international wreckers who do it for kicks, you may find yourself short-changed by a gentle plot in which there is no sizeable peril and motives and identities are not unclear for long. By the time two of Rose’s hearty female students arrived on the island, the whole thing began to feel like an Enid Blyton adventure and I was relieved to get to the end – a disappointing and thankfully rare experience with Mary Stewart.”

What do you think – does this chime with your reading of Stormy Petrel? Some readers are disappointed by Mary Stewart’s later suspense novels, and I would agree that the writing has changed in tone: do not expect the wild rollercoaster ride of suspense and sensation of the early novels. I know that the first time I read this book, it wrong-footed my expectations utterly, so much so that I had to read it over again. I like this book and feel that I want to defend its good qualities to Annabel – but to do so properly, I will need to re-read it and I’m not sure when that will happen. In the meantime does anyone else want to write about how good – or bad – they found this book? Please get in touch with your thoughts.

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