I'm racking up the Mary Stewart books it seems, my latest being her 1965 novel Airs Above the Ground. It all began back in 2008 with The Ivy Tree (at the time it happened to be a RIP read as it concerned doppelgangers--a concept I am fascinated by), and followed through with My Brother Michael, This Rough Magic (last year's vacation read) and finally Touch Not the Cat. It seems with each successive book I like each one better, though now with a handful under my belt I'm not sure which one I call my most favorite.
Although quite similar in tone and format each has a very different story to tell. She has become (along with Georgette Heyer and Clare Chambers to name just two) one of my favorite go-to comfort read authors (and there is much to say for a good comfort read). With a couple dozen books on offer by Mary Stewart, and a good lot of them in this same vein of romantic suspense, I will have plenty to choose from and will work my way through as the need arises (and lately it seems to arise more often than not).
So what is it about Mary Stewart and her very entertaining novels? I know she has a very devoted following. For me it's the exoticism of the settings, the charm of the love stories, the thrill of the suspense and mystery that usually is at the core, but mostly it is the pure escapism that each book offers. Each story is nicely constructed moving along at a good page-turning pace. You generally know what you are going to get when you pick up a book by Mary Stewart. At least you know what the 'destination' will be, it's the journey that takes on a varying hue each time out.
In the case of Airs Above the Ground, the journey takes the reader from England to Vienna and then on to the Austrian countryside and concerns a traveling circus. I have been fortunate enough to travel to Austria, so I had been keeping the book in reserve and had a hankering this month to return there--if only through the pages of a book. I wouldn't have minded more scenic/descriptive details, but the book still gave the flavor of the country, and a particular look at the famous Lipizzan stallions for which the Viennese Spanish Riding School is so well known (by the way, I never did make it there to see them when I was in Vienna--a pity).
A little bit unusual, this time out Vanessa March who is the heroine and "storyteller" is a young and happily married woman. Or so she thought. (As opposed to a single girl who finds love and adventure over the course of the story). She and her husband Lewis have to cancel their holiday plans for Italy when he is called away to Stockholm on business. She's left in London alone with her gossipy friend Carmel who is only too happy to inform Vanessa that she's certain she saw Lewis in a newsreel showing a devastating fire in the Austrian countryside. Worse Lewis was standing next to an attractive young blonde woman who turned to him to whisper into his ear just as the camera was panning across the scene.
Carmel is the most provoking woman. Not only does she drop this small bomb on Vanessa, she asks her if she'll accompany her son Timothy to Vienna where his father and soon-to-be stepmother live. Carmel assumes Vanessa will be traveling to Vienna on her way to a later rendezvous with Lewis in Italy. Vanessa, however, hadn't any inkling that Lewis was even in Austria, and now she wonders just what sort of 'business' he could possibly have there. It's less jealousy than simple confusion and curiosity.
Provoking woman she may be, Vanessa decides to take up Carmel's offer and act as chaperone to her son and deliver him safely to his father in Vienna before she heads off to find Lewis. Perhaps his presence in the newsreel and the woman he had been talking to was completely harmless. The newsreel captured scenes from the fire which killed two men who had been part of the traveling circus performing outside of Vienna and mostly likely Lewis had been attempting to help at the scene. Why was he in Austria to begin with, however, and not Stockholm.
So, a mystery is afoot. Vanessa, and her seventeen-year-old ward, Timothy, set off for Vienna. Nothing turns out exactly as planned as you might expect. The story is a lively mixture of circus folk, taciturn Hungarian tightrope walkers, a piebald horse, many delicious Viennese pastries, a castle in the remote countryside, several breathless chases and narrow escapes, and an exciting climax involving a train going up a mountainside. It's all great fun.
I've all but decided that another Mary Stewart novel will go with me on vacation again this year (maybe it will be an annual event--not just reading Mary Stewart but going on a proper go-somewhere-exciting vacation, too), but I have not yet decided which one. Although I never need much prompting to pick up a book like Airs Above Ground, I was inspired to join in on Anbolyn's Mary Stewart Reading Week. Check out more thoughts on Mary Stewart's books by other readers here.