Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart

>> Wednesday, September 13, 2017

TITLE: Airs Above the Ground
AUTHOR: Mary Stewart

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Harper Voyager

SETTING: 1960s England and Austria
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

Lovely Vanessa March, two years married and very much in love, did not think it was a strange for her husband to take a business trip to Stockholm. What was strange was the silence that followed. She never thought to look for her missing husband in Vienna -- until she saw him in a newsreel shot there at the scene of a deadly fire. Then she caught a glimpse of him in a newsreel shot of a crowd near a mysterious circus fire and knew it was more than strange. It was downright sinister.

Vanessa is propelled to Vienna by the shocking discovery. In her charge is young Timothy Lacy, who also has urgent problems to solve. But her hunt for answers only leads to more sinister questions in a mysterious world of white stallions of Vienna. But what promises to be no more than a delicate personal mission turns out to involve the security forces of three countries, two dead men, a circus and its colourful personnel. And what waits for Vanessa in the shadows is more terrifying than anything she has ever encountered.
After feeling a bit lukewarm about Mary Stewart when I read her 10-15 years ago, reading This Rough Magic made me realise I'm a different person now, one for whom Mary Stewart's "thing" is right up her street. I'm going to start out by reading the ones I hadn't got to 10 years ago and then move on to rereads. Airs Above the Ground was top of the first list. Dancing horses, Austria and the circus? Yes, please!

Vanessa March is a young, relatively recently married woman. She and her husband are at that stage in their relationship where they are still working out how their marriage will function. Things are basically good, but there are annoyances -as the book starts, Lewis has cancelled a long-planned holiday to take a business trip to Stockholm, even though he and Vanessa had agreed that he was moving to a job requiring a lot less travel. Still, it's nothing serious. Or so Vanessa thinks.

At the cinema one day, while watching the newsreel they play right before the film (I loved that detail!), she catches sight of a man who looks just like Lewis, hovering round the scene of a deadly fire in a circus. Problem is, the fire happened in Vienna, not Stockholm. Vanessa becomes convinced this actually was Lewis, and when an opportunity arises to travel to Vienna, escorting the son of a friend who's going to his father, she grabs it.

I'm not going to say exactly where we go from there, because it's just too much fun finding out, but it won't surprise any Mary Stewart readers that, through a mix of sensible detective work and the odd coincidence, Vanessa ends up finding the right circus, and involved in much adventure and danger.

When I started this, I was a bit iffy when I saw we had a heroine already married to the romantic interest. The only other Stewart I remember like that is was Wildfire at Midnight, and I absolutely detested the romance there. I wanted to murder the cheating scumbag ex-husband. Airs Above the Ground is nothing like that. Lewis does have a bit of an arrogant streak, but he is refreshingly respectful of Vanessa and appreciative of her competence. He was also much nicer, and definitely not a cheat! So, you can be assured, the romance is a nice one!

Everything else is just as lovely. I really enjoyed the characters. Vanessa is the usual Mary Steward trademark plucky, resourceful heroine, which is always a plus. She's a vet, and extremely capable. Her expertise in that area is actually crucial in some of the plot developments, which was great. I did find it a bit disappointing that she did not practice her profession, but well, this is set in the early 60s, so that sort of thing wouldn't have been uncommon. And although we're not told anything at the end, I decided that after her adventures she would decide to do work in her area.

I also really liked Timothy, the young man Vanessa is escorting. Mary Stewart's children characters are always great fun, and though Tim is older than most of those characters (he's an older teenager), he fits that bill well. Tim has got his own agenda, and provides some really valuable help, and not just in helping Vanessa seem particularly harmless!

The setting is as wonderful as ever. Both the world of the circus and the Lippizzaners, I could see and smell and hear in my mind (although, unlike the original readers of this book in the 60s, I did have the advantage of YouTube to see just what Lippizzaner horses doing "airs above the ground" looks like -and wow!).

It's also quite a nice suspense plot. Well, the actual crime going on was a bit prosaic and not really interesting to me, but the adventure it sparked off was great.

This is Mary Stewart in good form, and one I'm sure I'll return to!

MY GRADE: A strong B+.


Victoria Janssen 13 September 2017 at 15:52  

I enjoyed this one a lot when I first read it back in college - I was very surprised by the twist about the husband!

Barb in Maryland 13 September 2017 at 16:25  

So glad you liked this. I read it when it first came out and loved it. I already knew of the Lipizzaner horses and their wonderful graces thanks to a Disney movie--Miracle of the White Stallions (1963), which was about their 'rescue' during WWII. So it was like meeting old friends when I read "Airs".
The fact the our main couple was already married never bothered me and I absolutely adored Tim (hey! I was a teenage girl and I thought he was cool. Not as cool as the hero of 'The Moonspinners', but cool nonetheless). I've re-read it a number of times over the years and Tim still retains his charm for me.
I have to agree about 'Wildfire'--my least favorite of her books and the husband is a big part of why it's near the bottom of my list.

Rosario 24 September 2017 at 08:22  

So sorry, not sure why I did not get an email notification about your comments... blogger hiccup, probably!

Victoria: I really didn't expect the bits about the husband to turn out the way they did. Good surprise, though!

Barb: I've learned a whole lot about Lipizzaners since then. Might seek out that film, thank you!

And yes, Tim was lovely. Stewart is great at doing very young men. I'm rereading Nine Coaches Waiting, and Philippe might still be my favourite!

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