Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart
Touch Not the Cat

I love Mary Stewart's books, they are such great mysteries to read. I'd like to gradually collect them all. However, I found this a bit of a strange book, still enjoyable but perhaps not as strong or as gripping as her others that I've read.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart available on Amazon
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I love Mary Stewart’s books, they are such great mysteries to read. I’d like to gradually collect them all. However, I found this a bit of a strange book, still enjoyable but perhaps not as strong or as gripping as her others that I’ve read.

The main point of strangeness was the Ashley family’s ability to send thoughts/mind messages to each other. I wasn’t sure where we were going with this and why this aspect of the story was there really, I can see it added another mystery to the story with the uncertainty over who the person was who was sending the thoughts/mind messages to Bryony (the main character), but it seemed an unusual plot choice, being an almost supernatural/witch-like element but with no other similar elements of this is the book. And another point of strangeness is an extra story, written in 1835, that appears at the end of each chapter relating to Nick Ashley and his lover, but these stories aren’t mentioned by Bryony so it doesn’t appear that she is reading or telling this extra story, and I found all this a little confusing and distracting as I had to keep looking back at these extra bits of story in the hope things began to make sense somewhat. However, apart from my initial struggle with these couple of strange aspects of the book, I did like the personal feel to it, as the main story is all written as ‘I’, with Bryony sharing her private thoughts and fears with the reader. 

So there is someone that Bryony regularly communicates with by thought/mind message who she calls her ‘lover’ but who hasn’t revealed his identity, she thinks it must be one of her cousins, twins Emory and James or their brother Francis, as this mind message is an acknowledged Ashley family trait. Bryony is living in Madeira but is summoned, first by a mind message from her lover and then by a phone call from her father’s friend, to go to Germany as her father has been knocked down by a car that didn’t stop, but he dies while she is journeying to him. His final words, fairly incoherent and puzzling to the police and to Bryony and to her father’s friend, were jotted down and seem to refer to Bryony being in danger as well as mentioning a cat and ‘William’s brook’ and a boy. Bryony goes to their original home to Ashley Court in England, she senses her lover is also there but he still doesn’t reveal his identity to her, both the twins are also there so she wonders again if it is one of them.

There are a few interesting mysteries running through the story. When she meets Emory, she realises he is actually James and that the boys swap identities to help each other out as they did when they were boys, they even do this with Emory’s girlfriend who is unaware of the deception, and it’s not clear how dishonest Emory and James may be in several other areas of their lives. There are also valuable items missing from Ashley Court, and a church registry is missing from the church which also matches the date from the extra stories at the end of each chapter. There is also the mystery of the hit-and-run driver who killed Bryony’s father, and the puzzling final words her father spoke that seems to point to danger towards Bryony. And there is also the mystery of who Bryony’s lover is, and the mystery of the extra stories from 1835.

There are also several interesting themes running through the story. There’s a sense of foreboding and that the twins are concealing things and working for their own ends, and as they have inherited Ashley Court this makes Bryony fairly powerless. There’s a sense of history with Ashley Court but this is mixed with sadness as it’s neglected and no-one has the money or inclination to save it. There are feelings of nostalgia for Bryony as she remembers her childhood here, particularly at the farmhouse with her childhood friend, Rob, who now manages the estate. There are also contrasts of closeness and safety that she feels with Rob, which are absent from her cousins, and a contrast of confidence that she feels in Rob compared to the lack of confidence she feels in her cousins. 

I then went totally down the wrong track and began suspecting Rob, thinking he may be the one who killed Bryony’s father mostly because he constantly kept reminding Bryony to be wary of her cousins and to regard them as potentially dangerous, which seemed (to me) to be ensuring she distanced herself from everyone but Rob. Bryony also sent a photo of the twins to her father’s friend in Germany for him to show the police in order to find out if anyone saw them there in the area as she suspects one of them killed her father, however Rob is also in this photo so I was expecting the twist to be that the police actually identify Rob as being there. Bryony also finds out that her ‘lover’ is Rob, which she is delighted with and they immediately marry, but this then increased my suspicion of Rob as he must be an Ashley in order to have this mind messaging power with Bryony, so I began thinking he could be an illegitimate child from Nick Ashley’s line, and did this mean he could inherit Ashley Court in some way so this is why he killed Bryony’s father? And I was right with some of this, but not in my suspicion of Rob as a bad character or killer! Maybe my view that this isn’t one of her best books, is actually more to do with the fact that my guess was wrong, tee hee! The mystery about Bryony’s father’s final words is explained, as he had discovered that Rob was the rightful heir of Ashley Court as he descended from Nick Ashley’s illegitimate child, and of his realisation that Emory and James weren’t to be trusted. But I don’t remember that the extra bits of stories from 1835 were ever fully explained, I don’t imagine it was a story that Nick Ashley wrote down about himself and then someone (Bryony, her father?) found and read, and I’m not really sure why they were included at all as they only really back up the local rumour that Nick Ashley had a child with a local girl that he possibly secretly married but this was suspected anyway. Overall, it was enjoyable to read, but not one of my favourites of hers.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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