cover image The Stormy Petrel

The Stormy Petrel

Mary Stewart. William Morrow & Company, $18 (189pp) ISBN 978-0-688-11035-2

Stewart's ability to evoke a setting is richly apparent in her latest tale (after Thornyhold ), which takes place on Moila, a remote Hebridean island. Cambridge professor and writer Rose Fenemore seeks quiet and inspiration in a rented cottage that she expects to share with her brother, a doctor and amateur bird photographer. An unforeseen delay in his arrival gives her a week of solitude, during which time she is profoundly affected by the starkly beautiful landscape and abundant, almost fearless wildlife. Her peace of mind is shattered one rain-swept evening, however, by two unexpected visitors. Ewen Mackay, charming and persuasive, says he had been the former tenant of her cottage, and was unaware the place had been let. When, later in the same night, another man arrives, drenched and agitated, he tells Rose and Ewen he is simply seeking shelter from the storm. The visitors are jumpy, evasive and mutually antagonistic, and Rose's suspicions are aroused. The mystery of their relationship and real purpose, never menacing, is quickly solved, and takes second place to Stewart's vivid rendering of Moila's lochs, glens and wild birds, especially the graceful stormy petrels who nest there. A subplot about an irresponsible land developer seems an excessive afterthought. While devoid of real suspense, the tale is nonetheless laced with charm and good humor. (Sept.)