This book is the debut novel of Mary Stewart, serialised in 1954 and published in book form in 1955.
Madam, Will You Talk? is set in Provençe, several years after the end of World War II. The story is told by Charity Selborne, a young war widow holidaying in France with her friend Louise. Soon after their arrival at Avignon, Charity meets a motherless boy called David and is drawn into a fast-paced and thrilling sequence of events involving car chases and being hunted through Marseilles, punctuated by times of hiding – seeking sanctuary in church and Roman temple, fleeing onto a boat or pretending to flee by bus – as Charity tries to escape a man ‘who was probably a murderer; a man vindictive… and dangerous’ (chapter 3). It makes for a compelling read, full of suspense and a sense of danger.
At the same time, the book offers a beautiful vision of Provençe with its summer warmth, Pope’s Palace, Roman remains, brooding Les Baux and cosmopolitan Marseille (to give the city its more usual modern spelling; in the novel it is Marseilles). Mary Stewart excels at setting in her books, building a rich, real landscape for the reader to step into. If you have never felt any desire to go to Provençe – well, I guarantee you will want to visit after you’ve read this book.
some of the loneliness of the child’s situation dawned on me, and made me feel chilled. I knew a lot about loneliness. And I knew that, come murderers, come hell, come high water, I should have to do something about it.
France. Avignon, Nîmes, Les Baux, Marseille.
The whole affair began so very quietly.
See also my blog post Where does that title come from – Madam, Will You Talk?
You may also be interested in my short photo posts of following in the footsteps of Charity Selborne: