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4.0 out of 5 starsdelightful trip to Crete
Reviewed in Canada on September 24, 2020
I was only familiar with this Mary Stewart book by way of a movie with the same name made back in the 1960s. This was a lovely uncomplicated story about a British woman, working at the embassy in Athens, getting involved with a grand scale theft with a murder mixed in. It was set in Crete of decades ago, before cruise ship tourists overran the island. All in all, a nice read
I loved the film with Hayley Mills, then I loved the book when I first read it. Decades later, rereading it, I still enjoyed the gentle mystery and the requisite romance. Sadly, though, it does feel a little sexist and the description of Tony is very inappropriate.
5.0 out of 5 starsCompletely Transported Into Stewart's Wonderful World!
Reviewed in Canada on July 29, 2020
“Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light. Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night? Oh, I’m being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow… Leapin’ and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow…”
“Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens
In the opening pages of the story we meet Nicola Ferris, a twenty-one-year-old Englishwoman. Nicola’s mother passed three years before, her father, whom she’d never met, died in World War II. We also learn that she’s currently employed at the British Embassy in Athens, Greece, a situation that allows her to visit all the ancient sites of interest on weekends and holidays.
It’s been almost a year and a half she’s been in Greece and in that time, she’s come to know some of the locals, including a Danish writer of travel books who she sees frequently at the neighborhood café.
Nicola was planning a short trip over the Easter weekend and asked the travel writer for his suggestions as to a place where she might spend a few days in a simple, peaceful, out of the way place that represented, “the real Greece.” The travel writer had an idea right away,
“If it’s the real thing you want, an unspoiled village without even a road leading to it, just a couple dozen houses, a tiny church and the sea – then Agios Georgios on the island of Corfu is your place.” Armed with that one piece of advice, Nicola begins to plan her getaway to this remote village tucked in among the White Mountains of the island.
We also learn that Nicola has been writing her cousin, Frances Scorby, a writer and plant lecturer, to visit Greece, encouraging her to visit Greece to see its exotic array of flowers. And just as Nicola is planning this unique trip, she receives a letter from Frances informing her that she’s planning to come to Greece and is asking for suggestions as to what places they might visit together if Nicola has an opportunity to travel with her.
Frances informs Nicola that she’s taking a cruise with friends and is planning to allow time to do some sightseeing of her own. Nicola is excited to hear that Frances vacation time includes the Easter weekend; she excitedly suggests they go to Apios Georgios together.
Shortly before the weekend arrives, Frances calls Nicola to inform her that her transport is delayed and encourages her to go ahead without her and that she’ll catch up as soon as she’s able.
This background sets up the action of the opening pages of the story. An American couple, the Studebaker’s a reluctantly leaving Nicola on a remote turnoff from the highway, a sign indicates that the village is only a couple kilometers along the path that is too narrow for the car to pass.
Nicola convinces the kind couple whom she’d met in Athens and offered to drive her since they were going the same way, that’s she’d be okay walking to the village herself. After repeated assurances from Nicola, they finally seem convinced and drive off leaving her alone to explore the walk to the village.
As the car disappears down the lonely highway, Nicola picks up her case and starts walking along the trail. Here, Mary Stewart does a wonderful job of setting the scene:
“Behind me, inland the land rose sharply, the rocky foothills soaring silver-green, silver-tawny, silver-violet, gashed by ravines, and moving with the scudding shadows of high cirrus which seemed to smoke down from the ghostly ridges beyond. Below the road, towards the sea, the land was greener. The track to Apios Georgios wound its way between high banks of maquis, the scented maquis of Greece. I could smell verbena, and lavender, and a kind of sage. Over the hot white rock and the deep green of the maquis, the Judas trees lifted their clouds of scented flowers the color of purple daphne, their branches reaching landwards, away from the African winds. In a distant cleft of the land, seemingly far below me, I saw a quick, bright gleam that meant the sea.”
Nicola continues walking, her mind on the small hotel she and Frances would stay at. Interestingly, the lodging itself was not quite constructed, but the owner agreed to allow her to say in the one section that was finished. There was also a telephone to connect them with the outside world if necessary, but otherwise, the village was tranquil and remote.
Time passes and Nicola finds herself becoming hungry, she then remembers the lunch she’d packed. She stops at a peaceful place near a stream, bending over it to wash her hands when suddenly she sees something odd in the reflection of the water.
It was a man, staring down at her from high above among the rocky plateau. She dries her hands and takes a closer look, but by then the man disappeared.
Nicola becomes vaguely uncomfortable and decides to walk on rather than remaining in this place to eat. She then passes a shepherd’s hut. It was small and low and roughly built of unshaped stone. It was roofed with brushwood and dried scrub and wouldn’t have been noticed from any distance.
It was comforting to see this humble dwelling as it offered an explanation as to the presence of the man in this remote location. He was probably a shepherd.
Then, without warning, a man pounced onto the path before her, he was grasping a knife!
Nicola screams and attempts to flee, but in seconds that man holds her in his powerful grip. She struggles with all her might and forces the knife to drop form his hand. She screams and unbelievably, another man’s voice is heard, calling out to the attacker. The other man’s voice is distant, and he is unseen, the attacker however seems to heed the man’s voice.
The other man calls out to bring Nicola to him and the attacker warns her not to make another sound or he’ll kill her. They make their way to the shepherd’s hut, and Nicola is told to enter first. The inside was dark at first then she was able to make out the general features of the room lit by a single lamp. She then sees a man lying down on a bed of vegetation. The floor was of dirt and there was no furniture. The hut smelled of sickness.
The man lying on the bed seemed quite ill, he had a nasty gash on his forehead and his hair was matted with dried blood. He was a young man, dark-haired and blue-eyed like a great many Cretans. His clothes were filthy and torn.
He spoke in a weak voice, “I hope Lambis didn’t hut you? You…screamed?”
Nicola realized, based on the man’s accent that he was English. She assured him she was okay, but asked about his injuries which he dismissed as a rockslide accident of little consequence. The man who’d attacked her spoke up and the Englishman ordered him to be quiet while chiding him for attacking her in the first place. He should’ve just let her pass without incident. But Lambis protested, the girl had seen him and that was a problem.
Then the two men spoke in Greek about their “business” unaware that Nicola was fluent in Greek and could understand their conversation.
The Englishman then apologizes for Lambis’s attack. He asked if she saw anyone on her walk and she confirmed that she did not. The man then asked where she was staying, and she told him the new hotel in the village. He then began to become drowsy and started to ask for a favor of Nicola when Lambis interrupted, “Mark! Your losing your mind! Hold your tongue and tell her to go! You want sleep…”
The injured Englishman that she now knew was named Mark continued to drift off. Nicola looked to Lambis, “I’m asking no questions, but I’m not leaving him here like this!” Nicola then asked how long the injured man was here which Lambis confirmed was two days. He’d found him injured on the mountain and brought him here to the hut.
Why hadn’t he summoned help, she asked and saw the reluctance in his expression, surmising that he, or both of them were in some kind of trouble. “Whatever trouble you’re in, it’s nothing to me, I’ll keep quiet about it.” She then asks Lambeth to help her light a fire while she cleans his wounds. Both men immediately protest the starting of a fire, Mark is roused.
She realizes that their trouble must be serious, she then challenges Lambeth that the source of Mark’s injuries must not have been a rockslide, “Was it a knife?” She asks.
“A bullet,” Lambeth answers quietly, watching Mark losing consciousness again.
He then looks to Nicola, “So, you see, you should’ve kept away. There is danger, great danger. Where there is one bullet, there can be another. And if you speak a word in the village of what you’ve seen here today, I shall kill you myself.”
Nicola ignores his warning, more concerned now, with the injured Englishman, she begins tending to his wounds, he stirs, looking at her, “Your quite the girl, aren’t you?” he asks in weak amusement, “What is your name?”
Nicola tells him her name and asks about the bullet would which Mark downplays as a simple flesh wound.
“But you’ve got a temperature, and fool could see that,” she announces, while wrapping him in her coat and giving him a cup of coffee from her thermal flask.
Mark’s shivering slows and she gives him some food. After this she tucks him in under the watchful eye of Lambis.
“Nicola?” Mark asks drowsily.
“Yes, what is it?” She asks.
“Lambis told you the truth. It’s dangerous. I can’t explain but keep out of it…don’t want you thinking there’s anything you can do. Sweet of you, but…there’s nothing. Nothing at all. You’re not to get mixed up with this…can’t allow it.”
Nicola attempted to protest, and he softly stopped her, “You’ve done plenty for me, I think that coffee saved my life…now, not a word to anyone, it’s vital. I have to trust you.”
“You can,” Nicola replied.
“Good girl,” he replied, looking relieved.
Mark then apologized for the fright Lambis gave her, then ordered Lambis to walk her to the village. He then faded off to sleep.
That opened the amazing story of what started out as an Eater weekend getaway and turned into an ominous mystery revealed.
Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying:
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
Hitchcock’s truism applied perfectly to this suspense masterpiece, I found myself in anticipation of what was going to happen next time and time again as the story progressed. It seemed as though there was one thought provoking development after another, all of which kept me, the reader on my toes as I read on. This never let up, culminating in one of the finest endings I’ve read in a long time.
5.0 out of 5 starsTale-spinning at its most exceptional
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 31, 2019
Can't fault Mary Stewart on her descriptive verse-like writing. It flows like a river, meandering through the heat of the Cretan mountains and takes the reader on a glorious adventure via the 'heart whole' (MS) heroine (1950's) and her charismatic beau who, in this case is a very robust and mature young man who along with brother and guide, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our 'heroine' stumbles into a heap of trouble not least with that usual magnetic pull toward the handsome stranger. As i am born in this era, i understand the style and attitude of how it was for men and women and the how's and why's of those times. Lust and love were seen differently and yet Mary writes with a determination towards equality and even showing how women had a strength of character, kept mostly in the shadows back then. Crete sounds amazing. You can feel the heat of the day and smell the flora. The evenings are cool and Mary wraps you in a shrug so your senses pick up all the signals you need to believe you are there, in the shadows watching everything unfold and with nailbiting, heartbeating fast and the danger alerts in your own body you are willing them all on. If you want a roller coaster of a read and at the same time, an awakening of all your senses then Mary Stewart must fill your shelves to be selected and dived into as you close the curtains on the world around you (metaphorically speaking....or perhaps for real) enjoy.
How I love this book..in fact All her books they are on my kindle and like a box of salted caramels I select my choice. The Moonspinners is a favourite . I read it first in the 60's It's set in Crete the description of flowers language customs is so bounteous I was there! Characterisation is first rate she builds the plot with skill . I recommend Mary Stewart to you especially if you haven't read her books before you have some delightful reading before you!
I love these classic romance/suspense novels by Mary Stewart. They are good fun and an easy read with enough suspense to keep you interested. Her descriptions are beautiful and she evokes a world before tourists arrived in Crete and it was an unspoiled island. Wonderful nostalgia.
5.0 out of 5 starsIt might have been a simpler time but it was distinctly dangerous, as beautifully described here
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 30, 2017
To my knowledge, this is the only Mary Stewart book to have been made into a film. It is not my favourite of her books but it is a most enjoyable read with one of my favourite characters being Tony, followed swiftly by Frances.