When I was a girl, I loved reading gothic-type romances by authors such as Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Madeleine Brent. Historical novels were also favorites so when I first read a book by Mary Stewart, I was overjoyed that there was history as well as romance and suspense. I read all of her books, which our small town library contained, and then reluctantly moved on to other authors.
Last year I happened upon a wonderful website: https://openlibrary.org/ On that site are digital copies of many older books that were published too recently to be in the public domain but are old enough that they aren’t in the library anymore. Much to my delight, they had most of Mary Stewart’s books. Over the next several weeks I was able to borrow and reread my old favorites: Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, This Rough Magic, and others.
As I read, I kept thinking of how much fun the suspense and romance are and how many historical facts, geographical descriptions, and literary allusions there are in her books. I don’t often come across an author who not only writes well but also includes all of these details which give the novel depth as well as educates the reader in history and geography. Plus, they are just plain fun to read.
One such writer today is Susanna Kearsley. I read a couple of her books last year and enjoyed them, but when I picked up The Splendour Falls last fall and started reading, I realized almost immediately that here was a writer who could just about fill Mary Stewart’s writing shoes. History, romance, adventure, suspense–it had it all. I could hardly put it down and, for the first time in years, read past midnight to find out what would happen next. I went on to read Season of Storms and was reminded of the gothic thrillers I enjoyed so much. Her book, The Winter Sea, took me back to Scotland in the 1700’s during the Jacobite uprisings while Every Secret Thing was a thriller set in modern day Canada as well as Lisbon, Portugal in the 1940’s.
In each of her books there are elements of suspense and romance, but the amount of historical research that has obviously been done gives her books a depth which is often lacking in other romantic thrillers. Like Mary Stewart, she includes a plucky heroine, an exotic locale, and a mystery to be solved. There are usually charming and/or quirky secondary characters and a man with whom the heroine will develop a friendship, even if he doesn’t seem her type at first glance. While Ms. Stewart sometimes included a smattering of history and atmosphere in her novels, Ms. Kearsley takes it further and often gives a more in depth historical background to either her place and/or her heroine’s story.
I am so glad to have discovered Suzanna Kearsley’s books and I look forward to many more happy years of reading to come.