May 7, 2019

Touch Not the Cat

by Mary Stewart

Took myself by surprise, here. The book is a mystery and a romance- genres I don't usually read, but I could not put it down regardless. The characters are well-written, the situation intriguing, the descriptions of place vivid and real. Heroine is a young woman named Bryony, who grew up on an old family estate- now slowly falling into ruin, held together by a trust established by one of the family ancestors, and part of it rented out to strangers. Bryony had been living away from home for a while, but hurries back at news of her father's sudden death- and hears from their lawyer that the estate will now pass into the hands of her older cousin Emory. There's several older male cousins- Bryony has always found them rather attractive (this is back in the day when it was okay to marry your cousin?) and she wonders if one of them is he who has spoken with her telepathically since she was a child. It's a family gift handed down from a gypsy woman who married into the family once- but for Bryony it is much more than just an exchange of thoughts. She feels so close to the one she's been mentally communicating with, she calls him her lover, even though they've never met in person. I found this- really odd and uncomfortable- especially with the idea it was her cousin- and I don't usually like stories that include paranormal elements at all- so that tells you what a darn good writer Stewart is, to get me intrigued anyway.

Well, Bryony finds a lot of subtly suspicious things going on when she gets home to the estate. She starts to wonder who is lurking in the shadows, who her "lover" really is, and was her father's death an accident- or did someone purposefully run him down. His last words were written down and handed to her- they seem to include a warning and she's determined to figure it out. Meanwhile, there's a wealthy American family living in the better part of the huge old house, Bryony soon meets them and that was pretty interesting- sorry to say I sometimes find English opinions of Americans to be rather- disparaging? - but this one was admiring and astute. She also meets some childhood friends who still live nearby, peruses old books in the near-empty library in search of clues (there's some lovely literary references, I always like it when characters in books are well-read), and puzzles out the overgrown maze in the center of the garden- which might also hide secrets to some long-ago obscured scandal.

I won't say more, except that this story surprised me at so many turns. What was hidden at the center of the maze- I really thought it was going to have some magical properties- an ancient curse perhaps- but the truth turned out to be much more matter-of-fact! Who the un-met lover was- this part surprised me too, but I also found it very satisfying. The cousins turned out to be nasty fellows, and really deserved what they got in the end, I thought. I don't know if I'd pick this one up again- I'm still a bit weirded out by the closeness of cousins and the telepathy stuff- but if I ever feel game to read a mystery again, I'll probably reach for a Mary Stewart.

Rating: 3/5             336 pages, 1976

more opinions: Indextrious Reader


  1. I quite enjoyed this one too although found it slightly dated. Years ago I read her Merlin trilogy which at the time I absolutely loved but never tried any of these thriller/romances. I have a couple more of these so will give them a go at some stage.

  2. Yes! I really liked the Merlin trilogy as well (did you ever read the fourth book? that one didn't work for me). I didn't realize most of her books are mysteries, until I started on this one.

  3. No, I never did read the fourth book. I'd quite like to reread the Merlin books but I found them so magical and I was so smitten at the time (I was probably in my twenties) that I'm afraid it won't be same and it would spoil my memory of reading them.

  4. I also haven't read her Merlin books in decades- I was so wowed by them, but it was so long ago I'm afraid of being disappointed by the reread, as well!


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