I loved Mary Stewart’s King Arthur series, starting with The Crystal Cave, when I read them as a teenager in the 1970s. I am not sure if I ever read any of her romantic suspense books then, but when there was a sale on ebook versions of them last year I bought a few because I knew she was a great writer and trusted I would enjoy them. Madam, Will You Talk? finally drifted to the top of my TBR this week and I decided to read it. Yes, I was reminded, she really is a great writer. This was a very good book.
Madam, Will You Talk? was originally released in 1955, so there are a few things that seem anachronistic now (the word negro, for instance), but are obviously part of the time period. There is nothing I felt that reduced my enjoyment of the book – they simply reminded me that 1955 was a very different time. There was also a lot of cigarette smoking, which was really strange. I cannot remember the last book I read where anyone smoked, but people in the book were doing it all the time, including as a way to calm themselves after experiencing a shock.
One thing that in retrospect seems ahead of its time is the heroine, Charity Selborne. She is not someone who waits for someone else to rescue her, but instead leaps in where needed and goes about trying to save others, as well as herself. She does sometimes behave like a stereotypical 1950s female, at one point fainting when she experiences a great scare, but she never gives up on getting herself out of trouble, and I found her character interesting. The hero is a bit less modern, but again, I recognize him as someone of his time.
The mystery in the book is not a difficult one to guess, particularly if you have read a number of suspense thrillers, but the writing is so good it is an engaging experience to read it. Stewart obviously assumes that her readers will be well read and educated, as there are assumptions made about the reader’s familiarity with British poets and the French language that I am not sure would be made today. I felt like I was reading prose written for a higher level reader. I read somewhere that most blockbusters are written at the 7th grade reading level, and this felt much higher. Reading it was an interesting experience, and made me wonder if most books published at that time were written at a similar level.
If you are reading for the romance, it is of the insta-love type, which is not my favorite trope, but the story and the characters are so enjoyable it did not bother me as much as it could have. I really enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading the other Mary Stewart books I bought.