“I might have been alone in a painted landscape. The sky was still and blue, and the high cauliflower clouds over the south seemed to hang without movement. Against their curded bases the fells curved and folded, blue foothills of the Pennines giving way to the misty green of pasture, where, small in the distance as hedge-parsley, trees showed in the folded valleys, symbols, perhaps, of houses and farms. But in all that windless, wide landscape, I could see no sign of man’s hand, except the lines – as old as the ridge-and-furrow of the pasture below me – as the dry stone walls, and the arrogant stride of the great wall which Hadrian had driven across Northumberland, nearly two thousand years ago.”
Mary Grey had only arrived in England, from Canada, a few days ago but she already felt at home, she was already a little in love with the English countryside.
But she found out that she wasn’t alone. A man approached her, convinced that she was his cousin Annabel, who had disappeared nine years ago. She assured him that she wasn’t. That he was mistaken.
The man was Connor Winslow, Con, and he was the manager of his great-uncle’s estate, Whitescar. He looked after the land and his half-sister, Lisa managed the house. And Con had an extraordinary idea: Mary should impersonate Annabel.
Matthew Winslow was dying, and he refused to believe that his grand-daughter was dead. Annabel was still named as the heir to his estate and his fortune in his will. Con wanted Mary to pose as Annabel, to claim her inheritance. She would be paid a substantial amount of money from the estate and he would save the family home he loved.
The idea seemed ludicrous. And yet …
Mary went to Whitescar. But she soon that realised, for all that Con and Lisa had told her, there were things she didn’t know. Things they had chosen not to tell her. And things that they didn’t know.
Who was Annabel? Who was Mary?
Mary Stewart wraps up a mystery and an emotional family drama with some lovely gothic touches
Yes, the plot does sound unbelievable, but she makes it work.
She attends to the practical details. Only a few people need be deceived for a very short time, and Annabel has been away for a long time. You can change a great detail, forget a certain amount, between the ages of nineteen and twenty-eight, and Mary’s own life history can be used to account for Annabel’s ‘lost years’.
And she writes it beautifully. Descriptions of the house and the country are beautifully and naturally written, the characters and their conversations are utterly real, the motions rang true, and I found it very easy to be drawn in.
There were so many gentle plot twists, so many emotional changes, and my involvement with the story never faltered.
There were lovely details too. Annabel’s cousin, Julie, was the same age that Annabel when she disappeared. Julie’s boyfriend, Donald, was an archaeologist involved with a project at a Roman fort in the area. And the plotters themselves note the similarity of their plan to Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar …
The romance that I expected in a Mary Stewart novel arrived a little late, and the grand finale was everything a finale should be.
Having Mary tell the story was a wise decision. I questioned her reliability, and I wondered what she might be holding back, but now that her story is done I can’t fault her narration. I understand the reasons for everything she said and did; and for everything that she didn’t say and didn’t do.
I wonder if it’s significant that the author gave her leading lady her own name … ?
I had an idea how the plot would be resolved, and I got a lot of it but not everything.
A couple of small niggles: a few women characters a little too accepting of their situations, a few male characters a little undeveloped, and the unbelievability of the deception at the centre of the plot.
That leaves me incline to say that this is a book to read when you want to be entertained, but not when you want to be too analytical.
But, having said that, I can’t fault the logic. Now I look back I can see that there were clues. And I think that if I went back to the beginning and read The Ivy Tree all over again the logic would still hold up, and I would admire the cleverness of the construction.
I probably will one day, but I have a good number of Mary Stewart’s novels still unread to attend to first.
I’ve read ‘Rose Cottage’, ‘Thunder on the Right’ and this one, and if there are any of the others that you can particularly recommend I’d love to know.
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
“Each week, beginning Monday 21 May 2012, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”
So next week, I is for … ?