Madam, Will You Talk

If ever you wanted to go on a holiday to the South of France, this mystery novel is an ideal way to take yourself on a spin through all its best parts. And when you go there on a holiday, don’t forget to take this book along, Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk serves as a guidebook as well. 

Mary Stewart’s story starts out in Avignon and even includes its famous bridge as a setting of one scene. The heroine arrives in the medieval city at the best hotel and in the middle of some of the main players in the mystery. Little does she know, though. Normally, when you meet a boy and a dog, they are just that, a boy and a dog. In this case, though, they bring her into a story she didn’t want to get involved in had she had the choice.

Once she notices that she is involved in something inexplicable and probably unsavoury, she does everything to get away from that story and the people she deems are involved, all the while just embroiling herself more in their affairs. Her various ventures give Mary Stewart the possibility to shine at what she does best; describing scenery and all the scents the Provence has to offer.

She takes her heroine from Avignon to Nimes, Baux, and Marseille; sometimes these are leisurely outings, sometimes they are outright races over the byroads of the countryside. The final act is played out on a famously winding road to Hyeres. Her descriptions are masterly, and you will be able to find the hotel in Arles and the many roads she travels without problem.

The sunrise at Baux is as spectacular as she describes it, and the scents are all there. Marseille has lost nothing of the hustle and bustle she makes you see, hear, and smell through her book. And Avignon and Nimes are timeless places, almost frozen in time and yet so much alive. And the road to Hyeres is one of the roads you must have travelled, it is breathtaking in the views it offers.

The story is one of her best plots, and it opens a can of worms the French have kept tightly locked away since World War II. Part and parcel of the plot is the French involvement with Nazi Germany and the holocaust. The resulting novel is well worth reading and will keep you entertained all the way through.

One of the main amusements in reading is to follow the heroine through the many wrong assumptions which she makes on partial evidence. She is never outright wrong, because her thinking is reasonable, but she always terribly wrong in the result she arrives at. By the time she starts to get to the right conclusions you really don’t trust her anymore to arrive at valid results.

The book was published in 1955 and has been out of print for a number of years. Now it is available on Kindle. It is Mary Stewart’s first novel to be published. 

Further reading
Good Queen Berta in Switzerland 
Antoine de Saint Exupery and The Lost Prince
100 Years Tour de France