WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT…..by Mary Stewart (1956, Hodder and Stoughton. Ltd)

wilfireFiction novels set on Scottish Islands.

When I was googling and searching for fiction set on the Scottish Islands I came across this book by the famous writer Mary Stewart. I was very sure(kind of, sort of)  I had read it many years ago so I checked some review sites to see if it was indeed the very book I remembered. Then I made a BIG MISTAKE and I looked on that site that begins with a W and in two short paragraphs it revealed the plot –and the ending!  Definitely not a good idea for a whodunnit. It was the book I had read  maybe thirty years ago but I just couldn’t convince myself to read it again –  what with knowing the ending and all. Then fate jumped in. I was having dinner with a longtime friend and I mentioned my blog and my interest in Scottish Island fiction.  This was actually the same friend who  had travelled the Islands and Highlands of Scotland with me over twenty-five years ago (we actually had a rail/ferry pass called “The Island and Highland pass”). At the end of the evening she handed me her well-worn paperback copy of “Wildfire at Midnight” and suggested that it was worth reading again.  Apparently she too had originally read it many years ago and it had inspired her, during her travels on Skye, to find a place much like the lodge/hotel in the book (preferably without the murders) We stayed in an  establishment called  Flodigarry Hotel for a few days that she now says she chose because it reminded her of the Camas Fhionnaridh Hotel from “Wildfire at Midnight” (although it was on the northern part of the island and nowhere near the Cuillin). I remember eating strawberries and real cream in the beautiful lounge area. It was very lovely and made me think I was in an old black and white movie.

Back to the novel. Young, exhausted, divorcee(scandalous) Gianetta decides to  clear out of London shortly before the coronation (1953) , and  ends up at a very remote and isolated lodge on Skye. The cast of characters (including her ex-husband) staying at the lodge become a cast of suspects after a murder takes place. This is a great atmospheric whodunnit that may sound dated to modern audiences especially when Gianetta is trying to get her priorities straight—-

“Has no one ever told you that people mean more to women than principles? I’m a woman, Inspector Mackenzie!” (p. 178) Ah huh.

There are some great descriptions of the mountains and scenes of mountain climbing — made more timely since Hilary was about to conquer Everest. This paperback is only 224 pages so it is really a nice quick read.

Another  book by Mary Stewart is called “THE STORMY PETRELS” (Fawcett, 1995) and it takes place on a fictional Scottish Island  called Moila.  This book made me think of the plot diagrams my teacher would draw on the chalkboard when I was in primary school. It looked like a mountain . First the flat meadow (beginning/exposition) , then up the mountain (rising action), the mountain peak(climax), down the other side of the mountain (falling action), and then some more flat ground(resolution/ending)  Well if I had to plot this book it would be a flat line with a few ant hills and gopher holes. Nothing much happens.  I should state that I don’t usually write at all about books I haven’t enjoyed – I mean I have never written a book so who am I to judge – but I think it may be important for people who have read “Wildfire at Midnight” to know they are not getting the same goods with “The Stormy Petrels”.

Mary Stewart will be 97 next month.

Not sure is this qualifies as contemporary but–oh well.

P.S. Dear fans of Scottish Island fiction. Please read the comment left on this post by Linda Gillard. She is a very successful author (Emotional Geology, Star Gazing) and she has written about the Islands and lived on Scottish Islands.  Her recommendations are received with gratitude. (and maybe THE STORMY PETRELS is worth reading if only for the descriptions.)

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1 Comment

Filed under book review, book reviews, books, Mysteries, Mysterious Ladies, mystery fiction, Scottish Island Fiction

One response to “WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT…..by Mary Stewart (1956, Hodder and Stoughton. Ltd)

  1. I agree about the plot of STORMY PETREL. I think you’ve been kind actually! But having said that, if I was asked to recommend a book that actually conveyed what it was like to live on a Hebridean island, this would be the one. She really nails it and I only wish she’d written a non-fiction memoir or short story – anything rather than this plot-less and predictable novel which isn’t indicative of her story-telling genius.

    When introducing people to Mary Stewart I tell readers to start with the earlier books. They do vary in quality. I think WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT has dated more than others. My own suggestions for a reader new to Stewart? NINE COACHES WAITING, THIS ROUGH MAGIC, THE GABRIEL HOUNDS, THE MOONSPINNERS.

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