REVIEW: Stolen Heart by Mary Burchell
NOTE – This book is NOT part of the Warrender Saga.
“Please, Joanna! You must help me!”
Auriel Deane was deeply in trouble. To help her, Joanna, her usually sensible sister, embarked on an incredibly risky adventure.
Caught burglarizing an apartment, Joanna found herself a potential murder suspect. Neil Gilmore, a complete stranger, provided her with an alibi that satisfied the police. But Joanna knew that Neil could only think the worst of her.
She had to convince Neil that she was innocent. But Auriel, the only person who could clear Joanna’s name, selfishly betrayed her…
Every so often I idly type “Mary Burchell” into the search box at Amazon to see if more of her books have been digitally reissued. Recently I was rewarded with this one. TBH, I’m not sure what publisher this is – it’s not Endeavour Press who has been behind the Warrender Saga books. Given how there were three titles earlier this year which appeared on Amazon then disappeared almost immediately, I’d buy this one quickly if you’re interested. I’m also not thrilled with the cover though it is better than the ghastly covers of the “there and gone” three books. I mean, who are these people standing on a rock in the wilderness when most of the action in the story takes place in London or on a Sussex estate? Oh well, on with the review.
I had to look up the original release date for “Stolen Heart” which was 1952 but it seems a bit more modern – late 60s? It’s still an age when a spotless reputation mattered and Auriel’s selfish plea to her older sister, and the reason behind it, would be more understandable. Reputations could be made or broken with a quiet shrug, a telling glance, a word murmured or left unspoken.
While reading it, the plot hangs together even if it’s on gossamer threads. One thing logically follows another and it all makes perfect sense. It’s only later on that readers think back and wonder about some things such as how Joanna’s sister got involved with such a shady customer are glossed over. Burchell didn’t waste time on unimportant details like how the murder was solved and who dunnit.
Joanna is the sensible sister – did Burchell ever have a flighty heroine? She’s the calm one on whom people rely. Auriel is the charming but manipulative one who is used to getting whatever she wants and knows just how to arrange things to her benefit and satisfaction. So why does Joanna do Auriel’s bidding? Simply because she always has and Auriel does love her relations even if she places herself just so slightly first. Auriel has also been learning at her mother’s feet for her whole life. Joanna manages to avoid coming across as a pushover and stands up for herself several times over the course of the book – zinging Neil more than once.
Of course things don’t go as planned thus enter our hero. For a man who catches a woman burgling, Neil stays remarkably calm. Even when a dead body turns up in the vicinity, he’s fairly unflappable. He adroitly spins tales and gets Joanna out of not just one but two sticky situations. She doesn’t stop to wonder why Neil helps her out – she’s too busy heaving a sigh of relief that she isn’t being hauled into a police station for more questioning. She realizes she hasn’t come out of the whole affair looking very good but as Neil says, she’s never going to see any of the people from this night again, right? We know better.
Joanna might think she’s dodged the consequences of what she did but of course she didn’t. Burchell masterfully arranged the time bombs, heightened the tension of each scene in turn, resolved it to let you – and Joanna – catch your breath and then began cranking up the heat to bring the next one to a boil. I could see some of them coming at her and still got nervous for Joanna, knowing the boom was about to be lowered.
There’s one scene which is both subtly hilarious and nerve wracking and follows the last grenade which goes off at her employer’s country estate. This could only happen in England.
The silence which succeeded this pertinent question was so complete that one could almost touch it. Then, from the doorway, Roger spoke in a rather strained, though deliberately light tone.
‘Isn’t that Miss Deane’s own business?—and Neil’s?’
‘Of course,’ agreed Lady Gilmore, in a thin, polite tone. ‘Ah, here is tea. I am sure you must be longing for a cup, Jessica. Roger dear, hand round the scones, will you, please?’
Incredibly, Roger handed scones, Lady Gilmore poured tea, and the conventional social ritual began to fall into place.
English tact and tea. I mean, I can just see it. Everyone’s gobsmacked and dying to ask questions but – must have tea first! Joanna’s employer – and she’s another Burchell executive secretary who is indispensable to her boss – is the courtly old fashioned gentleman – and this is old fashioned as of 1952! His wife is the type who could maintain her composure in the face of WWIII, dispensing tea and scones with calm aplomb as the barbarians stormed the gates.
Neil doesn’t jump to conclusions. He’s actually very willing to listen to Joanna’s excuses, tells her that he’s willing to grovel if his suspicions are proved false and I could see that he wanted to believe her. But, as he tells her upfront, he’s heard things from her own lips that cause him to doubt what we know to be the truth. There’s also the thread woven into the story about the woman he had been involved with recently who treated him somewhat shabbily and though he doesn’t proclaim that “he’ll never trust again!” that is part of the shading of his character.
Still we can see Neil falling for Joanna early on though the signs are subtle as they usually are from Burchell. Joanna of course misses them completely as she’s too involved and unsure of her own feelings. Neil champions Joanna when it counts but there are a few more hurdles to clear before they’re both sure and ready to open up to each other.
This one is a treat – both in that it’s been released and in the book itself. Quintessentially English, set in London, a capable secretary heroine who gets the handsome hero (who isn’t an ass) in the end, twists and turns, plus Burchell’s great writing and characterization. A solid B+