RogerBW's Blog

My Brother Michael, Mary Stewart 29 March 2016

1959; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Camilla Haven, on holiday in Athens, is lamenting that nothing ever happens to her. Then a stranger brings her "the car for Delphi", for "Monsieur Simon", for which someone has apparently already paid the deposit, and tells her that it's a matter of life and death…

It's a bit of a plot device, but it is a well-arranged one: Camilla had been hoping to get to Delphi anyway before her funds ran out, and while clearly she isn't that "Simon's girl" who hired the car, there's no sign of whoever that is, and presumably Monsieur Simon will still be grateful to get it. So, after some effort to track down the rightful owner, she sets off for Delphi with only basic driving skills and a few words of Greek.

After that, things follow the loose pattern Stewart has established in previous books: bad things are going on and amateurs will end up dealing with them, in between loving and lush descriptions of countryside (and, in the opening chapter, city) and some moments of genuine and unashamed evil. Simon is in Delphi to visit the grave of his brother, who was killed there during the war, and of course there's more to it than that. And the shadows of Parnassus, and of the old tales of murder and revenge, fall over everything.

The heat of Delphi in summer came over particularly well for me, even reading on a cold day, and a scene in the amphitheatre at night (with Simon quoting from Electra) is especially well-realised. Camilla may not be the woman of immediate action that Charity Selborne was, but she certainly develops over the course of the story. The romance is more hinted-at than overt, and there's rather more mayhem than in previous books, including a superbly-described climactic fight.

Other characters are largely sketched in, but effectively so: the vamp, the hapless English artist, the various locals with their own goals. They feel drawn from the life, and one would know them if one met them.

As far as I can tell, Delphi now has been developed and touristified beyond recognition, as it was just beginning to be when this book was written; so it is a welcome window into a recent past that's no longer accessible, as well as a rather older one.

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