Touch Not The Cat by Mary Stewart

When not in the mood to tackle my ‘currently reading’ list, I often curl up to a volume of Mary Stewart which has become a comfort read.

Here our heroine, Bryony Ashley, was off in the Madeira when she received a summons from an Ashley cousin from England that her father was in danger. The cousin, who remains unknown, is connected to her through the unique Ashley ‘Sight’, communicating with each other using their minds. When she returns to Ashley Court, a crumbling Tudor manor surrounded by a moat, after her father’s death, she noticed some valuable things are disappearing. Before long, she couldn’t help feeling the danger for herself as well.

In most of Mary Stewart novels, the mystery gradually unfolds through varying circumstances in the disguise of strangeness and sometimes magic. In Touch Not the Cat, the element of the supernatural (like the Ashley Sight) is genuinely part of the story, which adds a different kind of thrill on top of her usually laid out puzzles.

Apart from the present story, something out of the past wedges in between chapters, which at first seems has no relevance, but near the end these confusing passages help wrap the story nice and solid. Since I already read half of her books, I sort of caught on to her style and was able to surmise part of the mystery halfway through.

I thought that the unknown cousin could have revealed himself earlier on. I’m sure it was rather a surprise when he was finally revealed (or, like me, rather not). Bryony is quite a regular contradiction somehow. She is kind and takes well on her own like any Stewart heroine, at the same time she is blunt and candid though hardly stands out more than most.

It was definitely the old Ashley Court that grabs attention, almost romantic with its neglected gardens, controversial ancestors, its moat and maze and its obscure Ashley legacy. But this is no Northanger Abbey-ish gothic mystery, mind you. The house isn’t really haunted. The relationships between all Ashley cousins are the ones put to the puzzle here. Stewart wasn’t even above making romantic allusions between first cousins, perhaps because of the culture of her time.

As is her trademark, we are still presented with some English mystery, a lovely spatter of elegant writing, enchanting description and light romance. One thing is certain about her books; it gets better with every re-reading.


Bryony Ashley knows that Ashley Court, the grand estate, is both hell and paradise -- once elegant and beautiful, yet shrouded in shadow. After the tragic death of her father, Bryony returns from abroad to find that his estate is to become the responsibility of her cousin Emory. Her family's estate with its load of debt is no longer her worry. Still, her father's final, dire warning about a terrible family curse haunts her days and her dreams. And there is something odd about her father's sudden death...

Bryony has inherited the Ashley 'Sight' and so has one of the Ashleys. Since childhood the two have communicated through thought patterns, though Bryony has no idea of his identity. Devastated, she believes, that the mysterious stranger is her destiny... the lover-to-be who waits for her now at Ashley Court. Now she is determined to find him. But passion is not all that will greet Bryony upon her return -- for the crumbling walls of the old mansion guard dark secrets, tragic memories... and inescapable peril.

Title: Touch Not The Cat
Author: Mary Stewart
Genre: Mystery, Romance, British Literature
Published: February 2011
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Rating: ♨♨♨ 1/2 ( 3 and a half - A solid Mary Stewart formula with a much pronounced supernatural element. Loved guessing the mystery cousin.)