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Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

My grandmother Goodman was born in 1900, so while she seemed old to me when I was 12 she was only about the same age I am now – old. I had not realized this rather horrifying fact until just now when I did the math!

Though she smoked constantly – but never inhaled – she lived to be 92 years old with absolutely no health issues until she dropped dead early one morning. Grammy Goodman was my city grandmother. She lived in Saint John, New Brunswick where she raised her son alone, after what had seemed to be an advantageous marriage to a man from a well to do Toronto family. Unfortunately, he was the black sheep and she ended up taking her only child, my father, back to New Brunswick, moved into the family home where she raised her son and cared for her mother and her two brothers for the rest of their lives. Her father had been a sea captain and her home was full of wonders. She worked for an electrical contracting company and set an example to her impressionable young granddaughter that women could lead independent lives. 

Grammy Goodman was also a voracious reader. I picture her in a chair with a cigarette, a drink by her side and a paperback book. By the time I was a young teenager I’d read through all the children’s books and was reading whatever was on hand, my uncles Zane Grey novels, and my grandmother’s mystery novels. She had a footstool made from a butter box full of paperback books. Helen MacInnes and Mary Stewart are the ones I remember most.

This fall, looking for the comfort food version of books, I decided to re-read Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart. Reading it now, more than 50 years later, I can understand why my grandmother liked it, and why my 12-year-old self liked it as well.

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The heroine, Gianetta Drury, is a well-known London fashion model. After a nasty divorce, and a busy London season she retreats to the Scottish island of Skye, to the Camas Fhionnaridh Hotel, for a much needed rest. Upon her arrival she immediately senses an atmosphere of fear and secrecy. It is soon revealed that a young woman was very recently murdered close by the hotel and many of the other guests are among the possible suspects. To complicate matters further, Gianetta’s ex-husband arrives and she finds herself struggling with her un-resolved feelings for him.

Wildfire at Midnight is a period piece, it was Mary Stewart’s second novel, published in 1956, a great success at the time it has stayed in print ever since. The heroine is beautiful, intelligent and independent but still does a fair amount of feminine swooning and fainting. The men are invariably handsome and gallant – even the murderer. The plot is credible, the setting exotic and the story captivating and suspenseful.

 

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