RogerBW's Blog

The Moon-Spinners, Mary Stewart 21 September 2016

1962; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Nicola Ferris, on holiday from her job at the British Embassy in Athens, has been looking forward to getting away from it all in an obscure corner of Crete. But a day of random wandering brings her into contact with two men, one of them badly injured.

I've read all the Stewarts before, but some of them are more memorable than others; this had left very little distinct impression on me, and I think it's because it sometimes feels like a bit of a washed-out copy of My Brother Michael. That had the ruins of Delphi; this has a single Byzantine church. That had treachery echoing back to the war; this has a more recent and tawdry betrayal. Each of them has a fight between the chief villain and the hero as a climactic scene, with heroine as onlooker, though here it's played almost for laughs. Nicola has rather less in the way of distinctive personality than Camilla Haven did, though she does have the advantage of being able to speak and understand Greek.

Even so, there's good stuff here. Nicola reckons the injured man, Mark Langley, won't last long without help, and provides it, ending up spending the night in his shelter to keep him warm. The next day, he neatly cuts her out of whatever adventure he might have been involved in, and she carries on down to the village where she was planning to stay, meeting her splendid older cousin and mother-substitute Frances. (And frankly I could have done with rather more of Frances. She has a sense of fun, from having seen a bit more of the world, whereas Nicola comes over as very young sometimes.)

"A heart like warm putty," said Frances resignedly, "and sense to match. All right, what's his name?"

"How d'you know it's a he?"

"It always is. Besides, I assume it's the one you spent the night with."

"Oh. Yes."

"Who is he?"

"He's a civil engineer. His name's Mark Langley."

"Ah."

"It isn't 'ah' at all! As a matter of fact," I said, very clearly, "I rather detest him."

"Oh, God," said Frances, "I knew this would happen one day. No, don't glare at me, I'm only teasing. Well, go on. You've spent the night with a detestable engineer called Mark. It makes a rousing start. Tell all."

It soon becomes clear that several of the important people in the village, including the hotelier (recently returned from London to be the local Big Man) and his English barman and chef Tony, have been mixed up in something involving murder. But Mark's brother Colin is missing, presumed kidnapped by the bad guys, and he needs to be located before anyone can risk leaving to fetch the police.

Nicola, having shown impressive levels of determination in nursing Mark against his will, is perhaps a bit too ready to let herself be shut out of the adventure, compared with some earlier Stewart heroines; but of course it doesn't take, and soon she's in it up to her neck. The romance is very low-key, with occasional mentions that Nicola is falling for Mark when he does something particularly heroic; but there's no particular sign of a growing affection, rather than a simple appreciation of a pretty and helpful girl, on Mark's part.

I wonder whether, after the big narrative trick of The Ivy Tree, Stewart was deliberately returning to a "safe" story and mode of telling it. The descriptions are as glorious as ever, in a more open and sunlit setting than the closed-in valleys of Whitescar.

Overall I'd read My Brother Michael in preference to this, but it's still a well-constructed if lightweight story.

(There was apparently a 1964 film version with Hayley Mills as "Nicky" Ferris. I haven't seen it.)

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