My Brother Michael, Mary Stewart
When I finished Water, Water Everywhere, I wasn't ready to leave Greece. Then I remembered that Mary Stewart set several of her books amongst the Greek Islands, and I chose this one for its setting in Delphi. What a lucky choice! Though I think The Ivy Tree will always be my favorite of her mysteries, this one runs it a very close second. And since I was a little disappointed in the last two of her books that I read, I was glad to be reminded of just how very good her books can be.
The story opens in Athens, where Camilla Haven is sitting in a café, finishing a letter to a friend back home. She is running short on funds, and she is afraid that she won't have enough to really see Delphi. "Nothing ever happens to me," she writes. "If only I could afford a car. Do you suppose that if I prayed to all the gods at once -?" Perhaps no one ever told her, "Be careful what you wish for." She has just finished writing the last word when a man comes up to her table, saying, "It's about the car for Delphi." He had been told to bring the car to the café, for Monsieur Simon in Delphi, on a matter of life and death. He offers Camilla the key, and though she protests that she did not order the car, and knows nothing of Monsieur Simon, over her better judgement she accepts it and sets off on the road to Delphi.
Without much experience driving, Camilla manages to navigate her way out of Athens and through the villages that line the route. It is in one of those villages that she comes to grief, facing a truck on a narrow street, where she must back up to let him by. As a crowd gathers, she completely loses her confidence, telling them that she can't risk damaging Monsieur Simon's car on the steep, twisting road. They point out to her a man walking down into the village. He turns out to be a fellow Briton, who not only moves the car for her but accepts her offer of a ride to Delphi, if he will drive. She is not completely surprised to learn that his name is Simon, but he is, to learn that she is bringing the car to him. He disclaims all knowledge of it, insisting that he is not the Simon in question, but he offers to help her deliver the car in Delphi. Camilla soon learns that he is in Greece seeking information on his brother Michael, a Liaison Officer with the Greek Resistance, killed during the war. Simon quickly draws Camilla into his quest, which may in turn be connected to the mystery of who hired a car in his name.
There is so much I loved about this book. Mary Stewart excelled at creating vivid settings for her stories, and here she brings Delphi and the small villages around it to life. It is a little different from the Greece that Emily Kimbrough traveled through, more crowded and chaotic. Naturally, in a mystery, it is also a more dangerous place. But Camilla and Simon, like the real-life Kimbrough and her friends, are students of the classics, equally caught up in the history and legends they see coming to life in the ancient sites. Stewart also weaves more recent history into her story, and I learned something of Greece in the Second World War and the civil war that followed it. I found the characters very engaging as well. Camilla I liked from the start. She is a quiet heroine, a little on the passive side and lacking confidence in herself, but stronger than she realizes. At one point I realized that she was never going to transform into Amelia Peabody Emerson, and that was OK. Simon on the other hand is a perfect hero, kind, patient, bookish, interested in people, and handsome to boot. At first sight, Camilla compares him to a Jane Austen character, which removed any doubts I might have had about him. With all due respect to Simon at Stuck in a Book, I usually associate that name in books with villains, such as Simon St Pol in Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo books, or Simon Doyle in Death on the Nile, so it's nice to find an exception. And this may be a (mild) spoiler, but I also love books about finding buried treasure!
N.B. This is the third book I have read for the Peril the First in the R.I.P. IX Challenge.