Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When I Discovered Mary Stewart

By special guest Julia Buckley.

Julia Buckley is a Chicago mystery author whose career started in 2006 with the publication of THE DARK BACKWARD. Since then her work has appeared on Kindle in the Madeline Mann series and the novel THE GHOSTS OF LOVELY WOMEN.  She is currently writing two series for Berkley Prime Crime, the first of which launched with THE BIG CHILI. 
She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Romance Writers of America, along with the Chicago Writer's Association. In addition, she has worked with the same writer's group since 2000. 
Julia has taught high school English for twenty-seven years; she lives near Chicago with her husband, two sons, three cats, and a mischievous Lab puppy named Digby. 
(Bio from Juia's website)

I remember when I first fell in love with Mary Stewart. It was somewhere between the late seventies and the early eighties; my mother, a volunteer librarian at my school and eventually at our local library, was always bringing home interesting books. We were huge library supporters: my dad was on the board, and we invited the local librarian, a bachelor, to our house for dinner and games of Password.

My mother had long been a Mary Stewart fan, and I can’t recall if she pressed one into my hand, assuring me that I’d like it, or if I picked one up on my own. Stewart’s covers and titles were compelling, with a Gothic flair and a sense of menace.

In any case, I read the first book. In those days we children who were still in school tended to come home in the afternoon and lie on the furniture like giant sloths, reading the books we had been forced to leave behind. I remember hearing a lot of “Why don’t you go get some fresh air?” while I lay there, devouring chapter after chapter.

The first way that Stewart lured her reader was with an Epigraph at the beginning of each chapter, always literary, referring the reader to a passage from Shakespeare, or Milton, or Bronte. This carefully-selected quotation always had relevance to the story she was telling. After this came the one-two punch of a fascinating setting and a gripping plot, introduced by an irresistible first line.

In her first suspense novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, Stewart begins by setting the tone:

The whole affair began so very quietly. When I wrote, that summer, and asked my
friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I
might be issuing an invitation to danger.*

Every Mary Stewart fan knows the quiet satisfaction of this sort of beginning. One can be assured of an exciting ride with a highly literate driver.

In my own book, A Dark and Stormy Murder, Camilla Graham is a Mary Stewart-type suspense novelist, and Lena London is as star-struck as I would be, had I ever been given the chance to meet Lady Stewart in person. I suppose the book is a kind of wish fulfillment. In an homage to Stewart’s books, I begin each chapter with an epigraph, but I am quoting Camilla Graham’s book, The Salzburg Train.

After that the resemblance to a Stewart novel ends, but it is still my love letter to the best writer of romantic suspense.

(My other favorite Mary Stewart titles include Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, The Moonspinners, Airs Above the Ground, This Rough Magic, Thunder on the Right, and The Ivy Tree.

A Dark and Stormy murder (Berkley Prime Crime) was released  July 5, and is available for order on Amazon.

*Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1954.