Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart

October 25, 2021 Book Reviews 4 ★★★★½

Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary StewartNine Coaches Waiting Published by Hodder and Stoughton on orig. published 1958
Genres: Romantic suspense
Pages: 480
Format: Kindle or ebook
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Audible
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four-half-stars

A governess in a French chateau encounters an apparent plot against her young charge's life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel.

When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe's uncle, Léon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant, his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma, though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda's innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.

Gothic-infused romantic suspense, taut and gripping

The closest of all Mary Stewart’s books to a true Gothic romance, Nine Coaches Waiting brings in a number of the genre’s most oft-used tropes: the young English governess, newly arrived to the great estate of Valmy; Valmy’s devilishly attractive, slightly sinister master and his equally handsome son; a series of “accidents” that befalls her young charge, Phillipe; and a growing sense of unease. In Stewart’s hands, the book becomes taut romantic suspense, enriched by Stewart’s lush descriptions of the French countryside and the elegance and richness of the house itself. Linda Martin, the heroine, may be both young and innocent, but she’s intelligent, quick-witted, and more courageous than most Gothic heroines I have encountered. Philippe is not initially charming, but as he warms to Linda and begins to trust her, he becomes more childlike, and rather endearing. Stewart builds the action and suspense with unerring precision and perfect pacing before bringing the whole to a shocking climax and a satisfying ending.

CW: There’s a small issue of consent (regarding kissing, nothing more) that I accepted unquestionably when I first read Nine Coaches Waiting in my teens, in the 1970s, but find somewhat uncomfortable now. It helps to remember that it wasn’t uncommon for romances of that era to involve similar scenes, and this is a relatively mild example. It’s also strongly implied that a minor character was seduced or possibly raped by another minor character, but it doesn’t occur on page, and her intimation of what happened is more in what she doesn’t say than what she does.

NOTE: If you’re curious about the title, Delicious Reads explains the literary reference and how it applies to Stewart’s book.

CHALLENGES: Read for COYER Seasons – Fall 2021 (scavenger hunt #33 – a book with a number in the title.) Also read for the COYER Halloween readathon (horror, suspense, or thriller – this is classified on Goodreads as both “suspense” and “thriller.”) It also counts toward The Backlist Reader Challenge, because I haven’t read it in at least 10 years (probably more like 15 or 20.)

four-half-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Seasons 2021: Fall Scavenger Hunt
  • The Backlist Reader Challenge 2021

4 Responses to “Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart”

  1. Katherine

    I’m trying to read more Stewart and just read Thunder on the Right which I enjoyed but had some issues with. Stewart is fantastic about setting a scene despite the flaws and now I’m looking forward to picking this one up!

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I haven’t reread Thunder on the Right since I was in my late teens or early twenties. I remember it wasn’t a favorite, but I can’t remember why. I wasn’t a big fan of The Ivy Tree back then, and liked it very much when I reread it last year, so I should give Thunder on the Right another try. Nine Coaches Waiting is just a hair below my favorites (Airs Above the Ground, This Rough Magic, and Touch Not the Cat) in my informal ranking of Stewart’s novels, and it might even join them.

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