Nine Coaches Waiting is probably Mary Stewart's most well-known (and well-loved) book. And I can see why. This was the second time I've read this book and it was just as enjoyable as the first time I read it.
In this book, young Linda Martin goes to Chateau Valmy in the French Alps as a governess. There is a sad past involving brutal orphanages that is mentioned briefly, but other than that, we know absolutely nothing about her. When Linda arrives at the chateau, she is struck by its beauty and grace and is determined to do well. But after several days, she begins to realize that the chateau is full of dark secrets. There is the pale, shy little boy named Philipe and host of characters that surround him: the creepy, yet brilliant uncle and the aunt who is nervous and takes pills, the friendly American who is working as a forester, and the wild young cousin who comes for visits. After one harrowing night where Philipe narrowly misses being shot in the woods, Linda begins to suspect the uncle and his son.
This book is quite gripping. In some of Mary Stewart's books, she overdoes the atmospheric suspense a bit, but in this book, that hefty does of suspense works wonders. As Linda and Philipe creep through the foggy forest and hide in a little wooden cabin to escape the evil uncle (whoops, spoiler...but you knew that was coming), you can just feel the tension build. The characters who were evil were just evil enough to be convincing and the good characters were nice, but not nicity-nice.
The one thing that mildly annoyed me was the French. The French characters would speak English to Linda and then just say one or two random words in French. As Linda is speaking only English (even though she knows French quite fluently-it's her one power over her employers, they don't know she can tell what they're saying), I have no idea why they're assuming that she just knows the occasional French word. But that's such a nit-picky thing and it wasn't a huge part of the plot, so I really shouldn't complain. At least it wasn't as bad as the 50s movies where all of the characters speak English throughout the whole movie with a stilted, awkward French accent. Gah.
Of course, I read this book in the new edition I got with the pretty vintage illustrated cover. I am having so much fun reading these books all over again in a nice edition. This book is a must-read. If you never read another Mary Stewart book again, this is the one to read. But I say that with every Mary Stewart book I review, so just read any of the Mary Stewarts and you'll be glad you did.
I can't do the Amazon link for these Mary Stewart books because they're only sold through Amazon UK. So for my American readers, if you want to get this specific edition, google Amazon UK and then type in any of the Mary Stewart titles and you'll find them.