Review – Wildfire at Midnight

Cover of Wildfire at Midnight by Mary StewartWildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart

It was a grey and drizzly day, this morning — even if it brightened up later — so I felt like turning to one of my comfort reads. Wildfire at Midnight isn’t one of my favourite Stewart novels, and indeed the sense of dread and atmosphere in the book makes it perhaps a touch darker than the others, especially with the moral conflict in the last part where Gianetta thinks she knows who did the crime.

The crime itself is pretty chillingly awful; I can’t remember if any of Stewart’s other novels features a mentally ill antagonist, but that’s how it winds up in this one. And he is pretty unsettling, when you compare his later behaviour with all the rest of the book, and think about what lay under the surface… Not a comfortable thought, certainly. It’s also not the warmest in terms of romance, since that’s barely there — there’s one or two great scenes which establish something, but not enough to really make you root for the relationship to happen.

So overall, definitely still not my favourite. But it’s Mary Stewart: the writing is atmospheric, the heroine is self-sufficient, and the ending is, for the heroine at least, a happy one.

One thing I would like to know, from other readers — there’s a scene early on where Gianetta is talking to the actress, Marcia. They’re talking about the two schoolteachers who are there together: the rather sullen older one, Marion, and the younger one, Roberta. Marcia calls them “schwärmerinen”. That seems to mean something to Gianetta, and she treats it as something scandalous/libellous — what on earth’s the implication meant to be? I have the feeling I’m too young to know context.

Rating: 3/5

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6 thoughts on “Review – Wildfire at Midnight

  1. Re “schwarmerienen” I didn’t know the word but I did a little googling and apparently Martin Luther called fanatics and enthusiasts schwarmeri, or swarmers, and considered them a problem. In context would that make sense of it?

    • It doesn’t seem to fit, because of the way the POV character says “you can’t say things like that!” etc etc. Hmm. It fits in terms of what the characters do, though, so maybe I’m just reading too much into it.

  2. Having not read the book I’m groping in the dark a bit, but I have read other Mary Stewart novels and also just generally a sense of the time in which they are set, there’s a connotation of its all a bit indecent and self indulgent and sentimental to be fannish. Like, a proper person would display more restraint. It connects in my mind too with the disapproval displayed by many characters in Sayers toward women academics. This is more about the mindset of the time and a feeling – but its like… like women who aren’t properly married and raising kids develop these sentimental unbalanced enthusiasms because they are acting out of their proper nature, and might even become lesbians oh dear! This was a thing, and it colored people’s attitudes

    • That’s actually how I originally read it — that there was some implication of lesbianism, especially since one of the women was “mannish”. I don’t know, though, maybe it’s just really weird outside of its moment!

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