One of my favorite authors when I was first becoming a reader was Mary Stewart. I had seen a movie called ‘The Moonspinners’ on the Wonderful World of Disney (remember THAT, anyone?) and, because it starred Hailey Mills – who I wanted to be when I grew up – and Peter McEnery – who I wanted to marry when I grew up – I sought out the book and devoured it completely. I then found every other book of hers at my local library.
Over the course of the years, I’ve managed to acquire all her titles in hardcover for my library. For me, she is the first and best of the romantic suspense storytellers. Sure, she was a bit formulaic – young girl in strange, often exotic surroundings, and handsome stranger, often a child or older person to act as catalyst, and of course, a happy ending. I didn’t care. Her characters were independent, adventurous young women who were brave and true to their feelings. The stories were set in, to me, the most romantic of locales; Greece or France, or some remote corner of the British Isles. The Moonspinners remains my favorite, but I re-read them all.
So I felt a real joy when I started to read The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley, and I was reminded of Mary Stewart.
Archeologist Verity Grey comes up from London to a small corner of Scotland, drawn by the promise of a job as well as an answer to a mystery. She is summoned by an old flame and former colleague. She is immediately drawn in by Peter Quinnell, a wealthy, aging charmer who thinks he’s found the campground of the Ninth Hispana, a legendary Roman Legion that marched north in the 2nd century and literally disappeared off the face of the earth. Quinnell has organized an archeological dig on his property, Rosehill, based on the word of Robbie, a young boy with ‘The Sight’, who claims to have seen the ghost of a Roman Sentinel wandering the grounds.
Verity, of course, doesn’t believe in ghosts, but soon she starts having her own visions, of shadowy horses thundering in the night. Then, ‘The Sentinel’ starts to take a personal interest in her, and she’s forced to start believing in the impossible.
There’s all sorts of stuff going on here. There’s the ghost story, and great descriptions of what this sort of dig would be like. ( I love any book that teaches me a little something on the side!) Of course, Verity meets a charming Scot, so there’s lots of ‘will they or won’t they’ and there are fun sub-plots including smugglers and a decades-old tale of love and false paternity. You’ve also got a spoiled granddaughter, the misunderstood Robbie, a great, ghost-friendly dog and a few cats. And is Peter Quinnell really a doddering, mad fool, or has the final resting place of the Roman Ninth Legion actually been found?
I had such a good time reading this book – the writing is crisp, descriptions accurate without being too dry, and the characters are all very real. There’s a lot going on, but the story never feels crowded or over-wrought. The tension builds slowly to a very satisfying climax, complete with a wild, Scottish storm, with all the answers falling into place. And the writing style reminded me Mary Stewart! What more could you ask for in a romantic suspense? With the long days of summer ahead, this is one you should have on your TBR list.
And I’ve got to tell you – when I finished this, I went to my local library and found all of Susanna Kearsley’s other books.