She didn't touch the cat

— feeling cat
Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart

A centuries-old castle in Britain, complete with a moat and a maze – check.

The aristocratic Ashley family, gradually disintegrating as the 20th century marches along – check.

A plucky heroine Bryony, with a telepathic gift that’s popped up in her ancestors now and again – check.

Bryony’s father dying under mysterious circumstances – check.

A convoluted inheritance and the furtive, faintly menacing cousins with obscure goals – check.

A simple but charming (and handsome, of course) castle caretaker as a romantic interest – check.

The enigmatic title – Touch Not the Cat – which is the motto of the Ashley family – check.

 

All the components of a satisfying romantic suspense, set in England in the 1960s, are there, and still, I wasn’t satisfied with this book. I liked the story – the plot twists were original and the prose wonderfully written. I liked the characters – 3-dimentional and complex, although I had trouble identifying with the protagonist, Bryony. She made some rather silly assumptions along the way.

As in many Stewart’s stories, the place – the castle and its surroundings – is almost another character. It’s alive, it’s imbued with old secrets, and the author spends an enormous amount of time on her scenery. For me, the over-abundance of descriptions, rich and atmospheric though they were, was this novel’s biggest flaw. I wanted to know what happened next, but instead, the writer offered me pages and pages of bird singing and boughs whispering before her characters took another step forward.

The second flaw of this story was the secret identity of one of the characters – Bryony’s telepathic interlocutor. Why didn’t he tell her who he was right from the start? Why did he keep his persona concealed for most of the book? They have known each other for years. It would’ve made perfect sense, more sense anyway than keeping it hidden.

You know my opinion of secrets – they are toxic. They poison people’s lives, but many authors use them as a plot gimmick, to spice up their tales. This novel was one of those, and the secret resulted in many complications for the heroine, the complications she could’ve avoided, if only the unnecessary secret was dispensed with before the story started.

 

Overall – not bad but not the best of Stewart’s novels.