Today I am taking part for the first time in ‘Book Beginnings on Friday’, which is hosted by Rose City Reader, who extends the following invitation to book bloggers:


Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.


Well, the author I am looking at is Mary Stewart (the clue is in my blog name) and the book is her debut novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, an all-time favourite novel of mine. I am hooked from the opening sentence onwards in this thrilling story of suspense, adventure and danger. The opening line is:

The whole affair began so very quietly.

This is I think a brilliant book beginning, causing the reader to wonder what is ‘the affair’, and hinting that all hell will break loose before long. Which is fair warning! The narrator Charity Selborne only slowly comes to understand what sort of dangerous affairs she has become mixed up in, with mystery being maintained far into the book. Peril comes more quickly, with mention of murder and madness escalating into car chases and shooting.

Mary Stewart was a pioneer of romantic suspense and was one of the first in the genre to write intelligent, brave and sophisticated young female protagonists into her stories. Add to this that she writes setting so well and vividly that you will feel that you are there too – this book is set in Provençe and the south of France, and when I visited this spring, it all felt familiar because of Madam, Will You Talk!* A final notable feature of Mary Stewart’s writing is that she uses literary allusion to add further layers to her writing. For example, chapter headings are often literary quotes that hint at events to take place in the chapter. I love this, and it reflects Mary Stewart’s background as a lecturer in English Lit before she began writing full-time.

What more can I say except: please read Mary Stewart! The UK has some lovely new 2017 re-issues of her novels (some of these are pictured below), you can sometimes find bargain prices on her ebooks, and it is possible to pick up some fab old copies from eBay/abe books/charity shops etc.

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* I have blogged about walking in Charity’s footsteps, in Avignon (also Avignon Part 2 and Part 3), Nîmes, Pont du Gard and Marseilles.