Books with a certain patina aren’t always the worst ones to read. If you are going on a holiday to the French or Spanish Pyrenees Mountains (or if you never considered doing that), Thunder On The Right by Mary Stewart should be part of the reading stuff to take along. Consider it a guidebook extraordinary when you do so.
Mary Stewart sends her heroine into the backwaters of the French Pyrenees to meet her cousin. Once there, she is told that her cousin died after a car accident, but the story seems inconsistent from the start. The research brings the heroine to uncover another mystery. The mysteries are fairly quickly and easily solved. But the heroine’s aptitude to entangle herself in one scrap after another keeps the story going to the end.
The setting for the story is nothing short of spectacular and ideal to make everything very complicated. A lonely village with an even lonelier nunnery at the back of the valley is the principal hunting ground for the heroine. The lonely farmsteads scattered over the mountains add the complications that keep everyone out in the weather. And the description of that weather is masterly and very apt.
The singular weather patterns of that region build the backdrop to the story. Mary Stewart’s mastery in conveying sound and smells brings the reader directly into those stark mountains with its unique population. She debunks the ideas that these mountaineers are either purely French or purely Spanish, but are in fact a breed all to themselves. And their moralities and loyalties are as far removed from Paris or Madrid as the valleys they live in.
Part and parcel of the book and its story is the history of the region during World War II and in fact up to the end of the regime of General Franco, even though it was written before that end finally came. The history is not a pretty one and nothing to really be proud of. But it is part of what these mountains stand for. Smuggling always was part of the live of mountaineers, and this was not only the smuggling of goods.
If you never thought of going for a holiday in that direction, this book might be the one thing that might get you going there. There are many of these remote places still preserved in that area, if you prefer them to the trampled tourist paths. The area offers recreation for hikers as well as climbers, but asking the locals for weather advice is being on the right side of caution before setting out.
The book was published in 1957 and has been out of print for a number of years. Now it is available on Kindle.
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