Classic Crime

Mary Stewart

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born on September 17, 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England. Her father, as a young adventurer, had sailed around Cape Horn to New Zealand, where he met and married Mary's mother. The couple returned to England, and he started his career as an Anglican clergyman. Mary was their first child, and was followed by a son and another daughter.

Mary began writing and illustrating at the age of five. She started at Durham University in 1935, and received a First Class Honours B.A. in English in 1938 and a teaching certificate in 1939. Her goal was to become an English professor at Oxford, but at the time of her graduation WWII had made jobs scarce, and she settled for a job teaching elementary school. In 1941 she was offered a post at Durham University and taught there until 1945. She also received a M.A. in English during this time.

She met her husband, Frederick Henry Stewart, in 1945 at a VE Day celebration at the university. They were married three months later. After her marriage, Mary continued teaching part-time and began to focus on her writing. At the urging of her husband in 1953, she finally sent the manuscript of ‘Madam, Will You Talk?’ to a publisher and was offered a contract by Hodder and Stoughton. The book was an instant success.

In 1956, Mary and her husband moved to Edinburgh when Frederick was appointed Regius Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University. They travelled extensively, and these trips provided inspiration for the spectacular and exotic settings that her novels are so famous for. Mary lives on the west coast of Scotland.

Review: Touch Not The Cat

‘Touch Not the Cat’ contains many of the elements we have come to associate with Mary Stewart novels. This interesting book mixes thriller with romance and a touch of the supernatural to provide an unusual suspense story. The protagonist of the novel, Bryony, has an inherited telepathic ability to communicate with someone she calls her ‘lover’ although she has no idea who he is. She suspects he is one of her three cousins who will also have inherited this supernatural trait but she oscillates between each cousin, trying to trick him into revealing his identity.

When her father dies, the crumbling Ashley estate in the Malvern Hills is entailed away to the eldest of the male cousins, who with his twin brother is already looking to realise the cash value of the lands. Although initially happy to help, when she realises small items of value have been disappearing from the house, she begins to reassess her father’s accidental death and is determined to find the mysterious stranger snooping around the estate. In doing so she puts her life at risk and is forced to finally confront the evil at the heart of the story.

It was fairly easy to spot who the ‘lover’ was early on in the book but this added a dash of romance which I quite enjoyed. I suspect (but am not sure) that the editor’s pen has been at work in this reissue and the romance has been made more palatable for a twenty-first century reader. Once more Stewart effectively creates an atmosphere of tension and evil to deliver a very enjoyable read. Stewart’s books certainly come under the heading of ‘classic’ and it is wonderful that Hodder have re-issued these romantic thrillers with such gorgeous covers. A tribute to an author who has already brought pleasure to several generations of readers.

Review from Sarah Ward of Crimepieces

Edited biography from

Reviewed by: S.W.

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