Monday, November 26, 2012

Nine Coaches Waiting

by Mary Stewart
Read: November 21-22, 2012
Published: May 1, 2006 by Chicago Review Press (Originally 1958) 
Source: Purchase
Category: Suspense Gothic Romance

A governess in a French château encounters an apparent plot against her young charge's life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel. When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe's uncle, Leon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant—his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma—though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda's innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count. (From Goodreads)

I love to discover popular authors from the past. When I heard that Nine Coaches Waiting has been compared to both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I knew I had to pick it up. While I could see elements of both in the story, including direct references to Jane Eyre, this book does fall somewhat lower than both those classics. However, it was still a lot of fun, and exactly what I needed after the heaviness of the last book I read. 

Nine Coaches Waiting follows Linda Martin who has just landed in France for her new job as a governess to a wealthy family. Her charge is Philippe de Valmy the 9 year old nephew of the residents of Chateau Valmy. Linda has grown up in an orphanage after her parents' death, and she's excited to escape that life to become part of the Valmy household. But Linda is not sure what to make of Philippe's uncle Leon de Valmy, who is a formidable presence even wheelchair bound, his cold wife or his handsome son Raoul. When an accident nearly kills her young charge, Linda starts to question whether it was a deliberate action, and whom could be to blame. 

Originally published in 1958, the culture and language of Nine Coaches Waiting definitely reflects the time. I forgave some of the sillier elements of the book because of the time period. But I really enjoyed reading about France in the mid-twentieth century, especially the mix of the old world - wealthy families that employ servants and governesses - with the modern conveniences of planes, telephones and plumbing. While the novel doesn't really have the spooky quality of a true Gothic novel, it was definitely tense and fast paced in places, and there were a few parts that had me on the edge of my seat. 

I liked Linda Martin. She has been dealt a difficult hand in life, and understands her place, but she is no shrinking violet. She's not afraid to take action or jump to the defense of someone if necessary. I think it's best to discover the other characters in the novel organically. Some of them were purposely hard to decipher, which made them quite intriguing for development of the the story. 

What is interesting about the romance is that it leaves the impression that Linda got to know her suitor much better than the reader does. In fact there are a few encounters between them, including one significant date, which are mentioned but not described in detail.  At the end of the book he was still somewhat of a mysterious character to me. However, I suspect that is the style of the author to more heavily weight the mystery, and also the time period in which the book was written. 

Even so there were some sweet moments between the couple, and a good deal more is described than either of the earlier novels I mentioned above. The romance in the story was a bit predictable at times and somewhat of a whirlwind, but it was the type where I would have been disappointed if certain elements didn't occur, and I was satisfied when they did. 

One thing that did bother me about this book was when Linda would make accurate observations about someone's questionable behavior but then pass them off immediately ("I must have been mistaken when I noticed that person doing/saying that suspicious thing" etc.). I think the book would have been stronger without these moments, allowing the reader to observe the action and make conclusions for themselves. However, I saw that more as an issue of the writing than a character flaw. 

Nine Coaches Waiting - cleverly named for a poem - has mystery, suspense and a forbidden romance between social classes. I kept thinking of an old movie as I read this book, and I could imagine it clearly as a film (in black and white of course). The predictable elements actually worked to this story's advantage, and I think they made it more endearing. Actually, I'm fairly sure that this is a book that I will enjoy better the second time through it. I definitely plan to read it again!

Love Triangle Scale: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Rating: A strong 3.5 stars 


  1. Love this book and have reread it numerous times. Your review is spot on. It is a novel of its time, and we've come to expect something different, perhaps something more in contemporary writing. I love the descriptions of France, especially the small village near Valmy.

    1. Yes. I agree with all these statements. I loved visiting France in mid 20th century. And I thought reading this book was also about experiencing how books at this time were written! Thanks for the comment.

  2. I am a huge fan of Mary Stewart. Her novels definitely reflect the times but are all fun to read. Nice to see people are still reading her books.

    1. YES! This is my first one, but I really liked it. I love discovering older authors.

  3. I'd have never heard of this one if it wasn't for you and, despite its flaws, it sounds amazing! I love that you're planning to re-read it as that's always a huge indication to me that a book is good, so I definitely want to pick this up now! Wonderful review, Lauren! :)

    1. This was a lot of fun! But must be read with a view to the time period. It's interesting to see how much is described in the mid twentieth-century, vs a book written earlier. I was serious about wanting to re-read it sometime.

  4. Wow, this is a really excellent review of this book. I've honestly never heard of it and I don't know that I would ever pick it up since I don't typically read this type of book, but I love your thoughts, Lauren!

    1. If you ever do pick this up, it is extremely readable! Mary Stewart definitely writes for a popular audience, so I don't think you'd have trouble with the language.

  5. I found your blog after searching the title of this book. I was happy to see that my thoughts of the comparisons with Jane Eyre and Rebecca were noticed by others as well. Those two books are among my favorites as well.

    It's funny that you posted a review on your blog that is anti-love triangle. This novel is definitely borderline. :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...