I can’t believe this is the first Mary Stewart book I’ve read! Looking at other reviews of Nine Coaches Waiting it seems almost everyone else discovered her when they were a teenager and it’s so annoying to think that I’ve missed out on all these years when I could have been reading her books. Anyway, better late than never!
Nine Coaches Waiting is the story of Linda Martin, a half French/half English orphan who arrives in France to take a job as governess to young Philippe de Valmy. Philippe is also an orphan and heir to his father’s title and estates, but as he is only nine years old he is living under the guardianship of his Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise at the family chateau in the Haute-Savoie region of France.
As soon as Linda arrives at the chateau it becomes obvious that something isn’t right and we are immediately thrown into an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. The de Valmys had insisted that their nephew’s new governess should be an English girl, so Linda decides not to admit that she speaks fluent French. But why is this important? Do Leon and Heloise have something to hide? When Leon’s dark, handsome son Raoul comes to visit, Linda finds herself falling in love with him – but does Raoul know what his father is planning and could he be part of the de Valmys’ wicked schemes?
To discuss any more of the plot details would be unfair to any future readers, so that’s all I’m going to say as I would like everybody to be as gripped by the story as I was. Throughout the entire book I found myself worrying about Linda, worrying about little Philippe, and wondering who they could and could not trust. And we are kept guessing right until the end. The tension rises and rises during the final chapters and although there were a couple of different ways the book could have concluded, I got an ending that I was happy with.
It’s not surprising that I enjoyed this book so much, because it has everything I love in a novel: mystery, suspense, romance, memorable characters and even some gothic undertones. It also had the beautiful setting and haunting atmosphere of a Daphne du Maurier novel and would be a perfect book for readers who like stories that are dark and thrilling without actually being scary. The book was written in the 1950s and is set in the 50s too, I think, but the story has a timeless feel and if not for the references to cars and planes it could have been set in a much earlier period.
Nine Coaches Waiting is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s maybe not the most life-changing or the most original, but certainly one of the most enjoyable and exciting. My only regret is that I didn’t curl up with it on a quiet weekend with no distractions, rather than starting it during a busy working week when I didn’t have much time to sit down and read. It’s great to have found a potential new favourite author and now I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of her work.