1964 mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. After the play that was to
be her Big Break closed in disgrace, Lucy Waring goes to visit her
married sister in Corfu. But why would anyone shoot at the dolphin
that comes into their bay?
In The Moon-Spinners I got the impression that Stewart was
starting to play some of the tropes of the romantic thriller for
laughs, and here I'm sure of it. Yes, all the action is here, but it's
often tinged with a sense of the slightly ridiculous. When Lucy
wonders whether someone would be able to get their hands on a weapon,
her sister answers:
"Give me strength! Gun-room! The Castello walls are just about
papered with the things! Guns, daggers, spears, assegais, the lot.
I'll swear there's everything there from carbines to
knuckle-dusters. There's even a cannon at the front door! Good
heavens, Leo's grandfather collected the things! Nobody's going to
know if a dozen rifles or so go missing!"
Given the title, and the further quotes from The Tempest at the head
of each chapter, one might have expected usurpers, magic, or a storm;
no such luck. One of the characters does advance a theory that the
coast of Corfu might be the site of the "real" Prospero's cave, but
that's about all it comes to; this is a firmly modern story, with
nervous breakdowns, high-powered rifles, smuggling, and the Albanian
coast just across the strait.
Lucy doesn't think of herself as a particular tough heroine, but she
is: she's resourceful and strong-willed, actually a vaguely competent
actress, and keeps working at something until it's resolved. The
romance angle is strongly presented, with a good sense of (rapidly)
Yes, all right, the Greeks are presented as a simple people:
hospitable, volatile in their anger, willing to resolve situations
with knives rather than talking; it does get a bit patronising at
times. But then you meet something like this sequence where Lucy's
sister has left a ring on the beach, and:
'If it comes to that, he gave me the beastly ring, and it belongs to
his beastly family, and if I lose it—'
'You haven't lost it.'
'The tide'll wash it away.'
'There's no tide.'
'Your foul dolphin'll eat it. Something'll happen to it, I know it
or this section that I'm going to quote in full because it's such
It would have taken Dali and Ronald Searle, working overtime on
alternate jags of mescal and Benzedrine, to design the interior of
the Castello dei Fiori. At one end of a hall was a massive curved
staircase, with a wrought-iron banister and bare stone treads. The
walls were panelled in the darkest possible oak, and what small rugs
lay islanded on the marble sea were (as far as I could judge in the
gloom) done in uniform shades of drab and olive-green. A colossal
open fireplace, built for roasting oxen whole, by men who had never
roasted, and would never roast, an ox whole in their lives,
half-filled one wall. The hearth of this bristled with spits and
dogs and tongs and cauldrons and a hundred other mediæval kitchen
gadgets whose functions I couldn't even guess at; they looked
like -- and probably were -- instruments of torture. For the rest,
the hall was cluttered like a bargain basement: the Gales must have
thrown most of the furniture out of their big living-room to clear
the acoustics -- or perhaps merely in the interests of sane
living -- and as a result the hall was crammed full of enormous,
over-stuffed furniture in various shades of mud, with innumerable
extras in the way of bamboo tables, Chinese screens, and whatnots in
spindly and very shiny wood. I thought I glimpsed a harmonium, but
might have been wrong, because there was a full-sized organ, pipes
and all, in the darkness beyond a fretwork dresser and a coat-rack
made of stags' antlers. There was certainly a harp, and a small
forest of pampas grass stuck in what I am sure was the severed foot
of an elephant. These riches were lit with a merciful dimness by a
single weak bulb in a torch held by a fully armed Javanese warrior
who looked a bit like a gila monster in rut.
That is an unexpectedly splendid touch of humour in what could
otherwise be rather a grim book, and the blend works better than
either would alone.