Mary Stewart’s Gothic mysteries are always a treat.
They’re literate – she throws in allusions with abandon – and eventually fast paced. I say eventually, because they build steam as she goes, often beginning somewhat slowly and not immediately “hooking” the reader … in fact not hooking you until late in the game when you absolutely lose an afternoon to finishing the book.
That was the case here with Airs Above the Ground. There are multiple plots here woven together to create red herrings, general confusion for her characters (not to mention readers), and interest. The horses are important, the circus is important, location is important, the relationship between characters is important, even the gems are important.
It’s a tidy finish, but not a wrapped up finish. The lives of the characters continue on, but with tracks down the road that you can’t see for the tunnels.
Our heroine might be confused, but she is never thoughtless or incapable of rational thought. That’s always nice to see.
There seems to be a sense of the need for solid footing in this book – being able to do the Airs Above the Ground exercises of the Lipizzaner horses requires training, understanding, and foundations. The young wife Vanessa is seeking the foundations of her marriage; young Tim, her travel companion is seeking the foundations of adulthood; Lewis, her husband, is seeking a foundation too – but I’ll let you find it. They’re all looking to be who they are – fitted to their own skin. When they’re on firm footing, they, too, can perform feats to bring about safety and a right end.
The Countess is so saddened by their reduced circumstances, they aren’t what they once were, and she hasn’t her feet under her:
‘Ah, yes. I am afraid the best of the portraits are no longer here. We have to live as best we can, in ways which we would once have considered impossible.’ She lifted her shoulders, solid under the frilly blouse. ‘The best of everything is gone, Mrs March.’
and has become angry with nowhere to land:
This, it seemed, was one of those angry natures that feeds on grievance; nothing would madden her more than to know that what she complained of had been put right. There are such people, unfortunates who have to be angry before they can feel alive. I had sometimes wondered if it were some old relic of pagan superstition, the fear of risking the jealousy and anger of the gods, that made such people afraid of even small happinesses. Or perhaps it was only that tragedy is more self-important than laughter. It is more impressive to be a Lear than a Rosalind.
Her identity was not fitted to her own skin, but to the trappings of wealth. I feel bad for the Count.
There’s a a slow chase across Austria, a spectacular roof-top chase scene, a car chase, a train chase to bring the story to conclusion.
I’m not saying that everyone should read Mary Stewart. This is absolutely light reading – but a thoughtful light read. I’ve downloaded Thunder on the Right to read next.