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.
This sounds great. I loved the other two with Greek settings - The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic - so I'm really looking forward to this one. I think I'd like to finish the Merlin books first, though, before I go back to the suspense novels.ReplyDelete
Isn't it good?! I was wary of the Greek books but now I'm eager to carry on with the others.ReplyDelete
Helen, a friend told me recently that The Moonspinners is her favorite, which inspired me to look for a copy.ReplyDelete
Jane, I think I also learned about this book from you! I know This Rough Magic is a favorite with a lot of readers.
Sounds wonderful! I love Delphi (never been there, but a big fan of Apollo) and the premise and characters seem to be up to the setting.ReplyDelete
I like your comment about "be careful what you wish for" - that's been a warning my mother has sent my way my whole life!
Jane, it's something I've heard my whole life as well! In Camilla's case, though, it brought her very good things in the end :)ReplyDelete
Lisa, Ivy Tree was also my favourite Stewart until I found Airs Above the Ground. If you haven't read this one, do try to find it. I think I could read it twice in a row and still enjoy it. My Brother Michael is well up there with the best of them, though, I do agree.ReplyDelete
Lana, I do have a copy of Airs Above the Ground on the TBR stacks - the Mary Stewart section is still well-stocked :)ReplyDelete
I really liked this one, too. I enjoyed the slightly eerie feeling to it, and the ending is just spectacular. Right up there with her best, for sure!ReplyDelete
Anbolyn, I liked the World War II connections, and the idea of justice being served in the end. I'm curious why they decided to seal the statue up though. I know I'll be re-reading this one.ReplyDelete
I think this is my favourite of the Greek ones because of that bit of history, and also I think I could picture the scenes so well from my (sadly all too brief) visit to Delphi a few years ago. I definitely couldn't do what Camilla did in her nice footwear on that sort of terrain. Also she is a Latinist, which I like to see in a heroine!ReplyDelete
vicki, I loved having such an educated, erudite heroine! Greece is moving quickly up my list of places I want to visit - as soon as I win the lottery. Or stop buying so many books.ReplyDelete