Wouldn't Mary Stewart's books make wonderful movies? Perhaps some of them have been filmed? I've just finished reading Wildfire at Midnight, which was published in 1956, and as I have classic films on my mind, I imagine a movie adaptation along the lines of one of Alfred Hitchcock's from the 1950s. You know that string of films he made with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Kim Novak (to name only a few)? Hollywood and its stars were truly elegant in those days. The films have that warm, rosy technicolor glow to them. They're wonderfully suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat stories with all those gorgeous settings and those utterly divine clothes. The men are dashing and the women beautiful and there is almost always a hint of romance, but oh so restrained. Yes, that's what I have in mind for a Mary Stewart film adaptation.
Wildfire at Midnight would be a prime candidate for adapting to the big screen (or maybe not Hollywood fare these days? Are Mary Stewart's books too sedate?--Not for me certainly). It has everything you would want for a Hitchcockian script. Lush, exotic setting? Check--the Scottish Hebrides. Imagine those craggy mountains with the waves crashing against the beach. Atmosphere? Definitely--the mist coming in, enveloping everything and everyone. A perfect crime scene? Yes--a hotel set in amongst the mountains where visitors come to get away from London and the larger world. An interesting cast--most decidedly. Our heroine is a young woman recently divorced and in need of getting away from the City. Numbered amongst the other guests is a famous actress, two school teachers, several serious mountain climbers, and our heroine's ex-husband! Fitting for that 1950s Hitchcock era? Certainly--it happens to be the summer of the Queen's Coronation, 1953. Perfect! And our heroine is a model, so that Grace Kelly elegance is not hard to imagine at all. And what about suspense? Not one murder, but several with hints of the murderer still lurking about--likely one of the hotel's guests.
With not only a name like Gianetta but as the namesake of a famous-Beauty-in-her-day, "the lovely redheaded Gianetta Fox, who was once the rage of London" it's destiny that she's going to get herself into some kind of trouble. While her great grandmother was on the disreputable side, Gianetta Brooke is the daughter of a country vicar. A training course for mannequins lands her in a fashionable London design house where she causes something of a stir and catches the eye of the slightly older, dapper writer Nicholas Drury. A mere nineteen is Gianetta and not half as savvy as she comes off as being. At twenty-nine, Nicholas takes her "stammering schoolgirl rubbish" for coquetry and the two are married three months later. And the three years that follow? Best not to dwell on any of that.
So it is May and all of London is preparing for the Coronation. The City is packed to suffocation and Gianetta is run-down and tired and wants nothing more than to get away from it all. On her parents' suggestion she sets off for the picturesque and very remote Isle of Skye. No crowds, no TV, just blissful quiet. So what if it rains all the time, and she doesn't fish or climb. Peace and quiet is enough of a draw. Surely a young woman traveling alone is not unusual? But her journey across the bay to the isle renders her some odd looks. As it turns out there has been a murder not long ago of a local girl on one of the mountains. Everyone seems to be tiptoeing around it, and it goes unmentioned initially. She has problems of her own as shortly after her arrival she discovers Nicholas will soon be a guest, a return guest as a matter of fact. He is doing research for a new book. It takes Gianetta by surprise and sends her into a flutter, all the more so since she is still using her married name. The last person she wants to run into is her ex-husband.
And then another murder is committed. Another young woman. And a third has gone missing. Everyone is under suspicion except Gianetta, who wasn't at the hotel when the first girl was killed. Nicholas, however, and all the other guests were. The tension begins to ratchet up as the search not only for the missing girl begins, but for the killer, too.
Wildfire at Midnight is Mary Stewart's second book, and while it has all the trademark elements that make her stories so entertaining, it does feel somewhat different than her later books. It's a fairly short read and could almost pass as a traditional mystery, though it has suspense and romance, too. I loved it and surprisingly she had me guessing the killer's identity (and motivations) all the way until the end. I've read a small handful of her novels now and I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite but this story might give the others a run for their money. I've still got a small stack of unread Mary Stewart novels and I like to keep them in reserve for those moments when I need a little pleasant escapism. And I still think her books would make great films.