After reading the wonderful Nine Coaches Waiting last month, I was desperate to read more Mary Stewart novels. The one I picked up next, Rose Cottage, probably wasn’t the best choice to follow up such a great book as Nine Coaches Waiting, but I was limited by what was available in my library at the time.
Rose Cottage is set in 1947 at Todhall, a large estate in the north east of England, and is narrated by Kate Herrick. Kate grew up in a cottage on the estate and was raised by her grandmother, a servant working for Todhall’s owners, the Brandons. The end of World War II has brought many changes: Todhall is being converted into a hotel and Kate’s grandmother has moved to Scotland with the Brandon family, leaving Rose Cottage unoccupied. Kate, who has been left a widow following the war, agrees to spend a few days at the cottage, going through some private papers that her grandmother had left behind. When she arrives there, however, she discovers that someone else has been there before her – and as she begins to investigate, she starts to uncover some surprising secrets about her own past.
If I had to describe Rose Cottage in one word, I think that word would be ‘pleasant’. The setting is certainly very pleasant, with some lovely, vivid descriptions of the countryside, with birds singing in the trees and flowers blooming in the meadows. The characters are pleasant too. It would be difficult not to love Kate and in fact, almost all of the characters are very easy to like – there are no villains in this book. Sometimes, though, ‘pleasant’ isn’t enough for me. I did find Rose Cottage quite enjoyable but there was nothing very special or memorable about it. The plot was a simple one, and although there was just enough suspense to keep me interested until the end, it wasn’t hard to predict what was going to happen. If this had been my first experience of Mary Stewart I probably wouldn’t have wanted to read any more of her books, so if you’re new to her work I think it might be best to leave this one until you’ve read some of her other novels first.
Since finishing Rose Cottage a couple of weeks ago I have now read a third Mary Stewart book, Touch Not the Cat, which was more to my taste and, in my opinion, a much better book. This story is set on another country estate in England – Ashley Court, complete with a moat and a maze. When Bryony Ashley’s father is involved in a fatal road accident in Bavaria, he lives long enough to leave her a cryptic message, warning her that she could be in danger. After his death Bryony returns to Ashley Court where she begins to investigate the meaning of his dying words. However, she also has another mystery to solve – for as long as she can remember, Bryony has had a secret ‘lover’ who she communicates with using telepathy. Her lover has never identified himself, but she suspects it must be one of her three cousins, Emory, James or Francis. Will she ever discover his true identity?
I really enjoyed this book. After a slow start the pace soon picked up and the story had the page turning qualities that Rose Cottage lacked. As the various threads of the story came together and secrets were revealed, things started to get quite exciting. The telepathy aspect of the story gave it a touch of the supernatural, but this was never overused and as a result it didn’t feel unbelievable. And it wasn’t immediately obvious to me who Bryony’s mysterious lover would be, so I was kept guessing for a while. I also liked the Romeo and Juliet references at the beginning of each chapter, which gave a hint as to what was going to happen in the pages that followed.
So, Rose Cottage and Touch Not the Cat – two books by the same author and two very different reading experiences for me!