This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

Title: This Rough Magic
Author: Mary Stewart
Year of publication: 1964
Pages: 384

Plot summary from Goodreads: British actress Lucy Waring believes there is no finer place to be “at liberty” than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.

Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide …

This book sits at the intersection of mystery and romance, in the same place that a book like Rebecca sits – there is a mystery to solve, but it isn’t really focused on the whodunnit so much as it is focused on the danger to the heroine and the romantic currents simmering beneath the surface. It barely fits into the parameters of this blog, but it was published prior to 1980, and it does involve crime, so I’m talking about it here!

I want to start by wondering aloud if anyone else writes like Mary Stewart? Because if there is another Mary Stewart out there, I want to find her. Her books are the perfect combination of romance and suspense, set in the most beautiful places. I really enjoy the fact that they are contemporaries for the time that they were written.

I would say that the closest that I have found to Stewart is Phyllis Whitney, who writes very similar romantic suspense/gothic romance, but she just doesn’t have the writing chops of Mary Stewart. I’m wondering if anyone is aware of any modern authors who are writing this same type of book. I don’t really enjoy the Pamela Clare style of romantic suspense, and J.D. Robb doesn’t do much for me.

This was my first time reading This Rough Magic – it was one of my massive Mary Stewart kindle book purchase last fall. It is definitely up there with The Moonspinners for me in enjoyability, and I liked it better than both The Ivy Tree and Wildfire at Midnight.

This Rough Magic follows the Mary Stewart playbook – attractive young woman on her own goes to exotic place, becomes embroiled in something dangerous – espionage, smuggling, murder – falls in love with an equally attractive young man after they cross paths. Stewart has a gift for creating suspense, and one of the things that I liked about This Rough Magic is that the main character, Lucy Waring, extricates herself from danger with resourcefulness and persistence. She doesn’t wait to be rescued – she rescues herself. I liked this a lot, and it placed Lucy on a footing of equality with the male love interest.

The Corfu setting is beautiful. Mary Stewart used Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a jumping off point for the book, with quotes from the play as chapter headings, and discussions about The Tempest between the heroine, Lucy, a not-terribly-successful actress from London and Julian Gale, a very successful Shakespearean actor who has come to Corfu to recuperate from a nervous breakdown. Stewart’s descriptive talents are formidable and she does a wonderful job of painting a mental picture of beautiful places. It had the same effect on me as The Moonspinners in making me want to jump on an airplane and fly off to a sunny climate, especially given that I am suffering mightily from spring fever in the midst of a grey Oregon winter.

As a downside, as is the case with a lot of mid-twentieth century fiction, there is a lot of colonialism and superiority in Lucy’s interactions with the native Corfuites – the “nobility of the peasantry” condescension. This is likely inevitable given the time in which it was written, but, still, it is present.

Overall, This Rough Magic was a delightful read.

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