"A novel of adventure, comedy, and mystery set in the France of Dumas' The Three Musketeers."
St Martin's Summer
The life of an heiress is in jeopardy and her only hope is to place her trust in the wiles of a middle-aged swordsman with no use for "women's troubles." As the plots of the conspirators converge it will take all the wiles and accumulated wisdom of Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache uncover their identity, to save Valerie de La Vauvraye and keep his promise to his Queen.
published by The Riverside Press Cambridge, Houghton Mifflin
"Saint Martin's summer" refers to a period of fine weather unexpectedly late in the year, and the title of this work alludes to the advanced age ("close upon forty years") at which the hero finds romance. This is the most broadly comedic of all of Sabatini's novel-length works, and is surely an homage to Alexandre Dumas.
Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache, "astute and wily as a fox, brave as a lion, and active as a panther," is first cousin to D'Artagnan in his devotion to duty and resourcefulness in carrying out his assigned tasks. Unlike D'Artagnan, he finds serving his Queen (in this case, the queen-regent, Marie de Medicis) trying to his warlike spirit. It is a particular trial to M. de Garnache to find himself ordered to leave the comforts of Paris behind and ride to Grenoble, with only his servant Rabecque in tow, to release the heiress, Valerie de La Vauvraye, from the Chateau de Condillac and the influence of the dowager marquise, who intends that Valerie should marry her own son, Marius, rather than her stepson, the presentand absentmarquis, off taking part in the Italian wars.
"Let me tell you that this is the first time in my life that I have been concerned in anything that had to do with women," Garnache informs the seneschal of Dauphiny, upon presenting his credentials; however, "being a soldier and having received my orders, I was in the unfortunate position of being unable to help myself."
The Marquise is ruthless and determined to thwart the queen's emissary, but after a week on the road, sleeping in bad inns, Garnache is in no mood to brook opposition. Having made up his mind that Valerie (a sensible girl who does not need to pack heavily for her trip to the capital) is indeed being held against her will, he wins free of the chateau, by using Marius as a hostage, and returns to Grenoble with Valerie before him on the saddle.
Now Garnache is convinced that he has finished with the heavy lifting and, despite Valerie's plea that they put some more distance between themselves and the de Condillacs before sleeping, he decides to spend the night in Grenoble. Not only is it raining heavily but, mysteriously, he cannot find a coach for hire anywhere in the city, nor even a horse at the post-house...
Humor is hard to learn to use gracefully, and I often think that Sabatini, with his love of irony, laid it on rather thick (he got better over time). But to the extent that he was drawing on, possibly learning from, Dumas in the writing of this book, the comedy works very well. The book has a good deal of swordplay, an appealing romantic plot, and some interesting stabs at word painting, as well.
Here, for example, is the book's opening sentence: "My Lord of Tressan, His Majesty's Seneschal of Dauphiny, sat at his ease, his purple doublet all undone, to yield greater freedom to his vast bulk, a yellow silken undergarment visible through the gap, as is visible the flesh of some fruit that, swollen with over-ripeness, has burst its skin."
This is an early novel, but not one to which Sabatini apparently felt it necessary to add a disclaimer when it was published in the U.S.
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