7.24.2013

Currently Reading: Airs Above the Ground

Airs Above the GroundI noticed that Herr Wagner was watching closely. Even if he did not value the horse, he was too good a horseman to hand the animal over to someone and then leave them unsupervised. He said nothing, but washed up himself and then stood near me, obviously constituting himself my assistant.

I clipped the horse's leg and cleaned the area with surgical spirit, then reached for the hypodermic. As Herr Wagner put it into my hand, I caught sight of Tim's face, taut and anxious, watching across the horse's neck. There was nothing for him to do, so he stood by the animal's head and spoke to him gently from time to time, but in fact the boy seemed much more disturbed by the operation than the patient, and looked so anxious at the sight of the needle that I gave him a reassuring grin.

"I'm going to give him a local, Tim, don't worry. He won't feel a thing, and twenty minutes from now he'll be doing a capriole."

Author: Mary Stewart

From Goodreads: Lovely Vanessa March did not think it was strange for her husband to take a business trip to Stockholm. What was strange was the silence that followed. Then she caught a glimpse of him in a newsreel shot of a crowd near a mysterious circus fire in Vienna and knew it was more than strange. It was downright sinister.

Once again Mary Stewart unfolds a masterpiece of intrigue, terror, and suspense in this headlong-paced tale of a young wife's search for a missing husband....

Notes: Out of the stack of Mary Stewart mysteries given me by Arabella, this book appealed directly to the memory of my little-girl horse-craze phase, which lasted in force until my late teens and never entirely went away. Airs Above the Ground, set in Austria, with a focus on the Spanish Riding School and its Lipizzan stallions, starring a young veterinarian as heroine, looked like ideal light reading material.

While Austria and the famed School weren't developed to the same level of immersion as the Greece of Stewart's The Moon-Spinners, there was enough there for the senses to catch onto. The characters were even more enjoyable—especially cheerful, witty young Vanessa and seventeen-year-old Tim, who was quite the charmer. The loyal, playful, basically platonic friendship between Tim and Vanessa carried the story and was one of its most likable aspects.

The plot was intriguing, and Vanessa had plenty of action to survive without relying entirely on the leading men; she was resourceful enough to do some rescuing and sensible enough to accept help. That said, much as I would like to avoid the supposed necessity of scolding the work for the presumably unforgivable sin of being a creature of its time, I confess there were moments when even my eyebrows went up at the way Vanessa views male/female relationships. I'm afraid I risk undoing all that show of enlightenment, however, by admitting that it was nice to revisit the days when a terrified heroine could, without shame, take refuge in a man's inescapably superior strength.

As for the horses, I would have been glad to see much more of them than the book provided for, but what Stewart did offer was fun. There were moments that were even beautiful. And as Stewart's old-world settings and lively characters are the high points of her work, at least for readers like me who have little interest in smuggling rings and drug busts and fictional shoot-outs, I'd say that while this is perhaps one of her weaker stories, it's still engaging and a very pleasant read.

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