The Shadowy Horses
Do you ever find yourself missing Mary Stewart? Her lyrical prose, lovely imagery, exotic locales? Always, a beautiful young heroine away from home is surrounded by secrets and suspicious people, one of whom is a sexy and mysterious man. I grew up on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, and I’ve not found anyone since who feels the same to me. However, having just finished my first book by Susanna Kearsley, I have come very close.
Marketed simply as fiction, The Shadowy Horses does have a love story, but it is kept too far in the background for the book to be considered a romance. And there is suspense, but not nearly enough to keep the reader turning the pages at breakneck speed. What it does have is interesting characters, vivid descriptions of the Scottish village in which the story takes place, genuine (and readable) local dialect, and a manly, sexy hero that I would like to have seen a lot more of.
Verity Grey is an archaeologist who recently left her job at the British Museum. She’s on her way to Eyemouth, Scotland, to interview for a spot at a site that may (or may not) hold the key to the whereabouts of a lost Roman legion. On the bus to Eyemouth, she meets Dr. David Fortune, a fellow archaeologist who is also working the dig. Verity can’t help but notice how friendly he is to everyone … except her.
Once arrived at Rosehill, she meets her employer, Peter Quinnell, an archaeologist who has fallen out of favor with his colleagues because he has been searching in vain for decades for the lost legion. Peter has absolutely no evidence that the field he has identified as the Romans’ last campsite really is genuine. But he has what he considers an ace in the hole. Robbie, a little boy with “the gift” who can see a Roman sentinel as he stands his post, two thousand years after his death.
At night, as Verity lay sleeping, she hears the sounds of hundreds of horses thundering past her window, but in the morning, no hoofprints, nor any sign of horses. She’s told that those are the shadowy horses of legend, come to carry men off to the land of the dead.
The dig begins. Things start to happen. The computers go on the fritz. Things are lost or moved from their proper location. Verity and Davy begin to fall gently in love (despite the efforts of Adrian Sutton-Clarke, a spoiled ex-boyfriend of Verity’s). Robbie discovers he can talk to the Sentinel. Something’s going with Fabia, Peter Quinnell’s beautiful and rude granddaughter and Brian, Robbie’s fisherman/smuggler father.
No, there wasn’t enough romance for me. No, the suspense – once all was said and done – was mild and minimal. There are some problems (just why did the lovely Jeannie stay with the faithless Brian, anyway?), and some strings left dangling. Nevertheless, this book was a lovely read. It transported me to Eyemouth, Scotland, and entertained me with interesting characters and a mild mystery. Ms. Kearsley’s descriptions are vivid and the local color she paints into her prose kept me reading and enjoying.
If you’d like a book to put you in mind of the Mary Stewarts of yesteryear, but which has a poetic style and energy all its own, I recommend The Shadowy Horses. Lass, I don’t ken what more you could ask for.