The Moonspinners

The sky was black velvet, obscured by the veil of cloud drawing slowly across from the White Mountains. Later, perhaps, it would be thick with stars, but now it was black, black and comforting for the hunted. The moonspinners had done their work.

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been drawn to mystery and suspense rather than regular fiction. Perhaps it’s more escapist, or perhaps it holds my attention better when I have twenty other things on my mind at the same time. Mary Stewart fit the bill perfectly; The Moonspinners was one of the first books of hers that I read, and the later ones I’ve read more recently seem a bit more laid back.

Nicola Ferris, a young secretary at the British Embassy in Greece, is looking forward to joining her cousin Frances for a quiet Easter vacation on Crete. Frances is an avid naturalist and the secluded town of Agios Georgios is perfect, with its location in the foothills of the White Mountains. Nicola has also managed to secure reservations at the small hotel before it opens, since the owner is a wealthy native Cretan recently returned home to help out his sister Sophia.

Thanks to a lift from friends Nicola arrives a day before she is expected, and decides to take a detour up a mountain trail before heading into town. She travels farther than she intends on a search for the perfect picnic spot and stumbles across an abandoned shepherd’s hut. The discovery seems innocuous until she is confronted by a large Greek man with a knife who takes her inside.

The Greek, Lambis, is actually caring for a British man, Mark Langley, who is recovering from a gun wound. Lambis had piloted the caique bringing Mark and his brother Colin to hike and sightsee around the mountains. On the first night, however, the brothers accidentally witnessed a murder. The murderer then shot at Mark, and when Lambis sound and revived him later, Colin was gone. Since ties run deep in Agios Georgios, the two men must remain on the mountainside until Mark’s wound heals a bit and then secretly search for Colin, while avoiding a murderer who hopes to leave no witnesses. Meanwhile Nicola must return to the village to meet her cousin. Her conscience won’t let her turn a blind eye, so she feels around for information without knowing whom to trust, and and who might instead be involved in the affair.

The book was originally published in 1962, but Nicola is a smart and confident heroine. She traipses the mountainside in a dress, smokes cigarettes, and shares a blanket overnight with an injured stranger. She loves working in a foreign country, uses her fluency in Greek to her advantage, and is willing to take plenty of risks. I wonder sometimes how I would fare in situations like this, and right now my answer is not nearly as well as she did!

On this stretch of the hill there were no trees, other than an occasional thin poplar with bone-white boughs. Thistles grew in the cracks of the rock, and everywhere over the dry dust danced tiny yellow flowers, on threadlike stalks that let them flicker in the breeze two inches above the ground. They were lovely little things, a million motes of gold dancing in a dusty beam, but I trudged over them almost without seeing them. The joy had gone: there was nothing in my world now but the stony track, and the job it was taking me to do.

One of my favorite elements of Mary Stewart’s best suspense books is the exotic locale she she so vividly describes. I could see in my mind the wild mountainsides of Crete, the fields and streams and tiny flowers. It’s like a mini mental vacation! The unfamiliarity of the surrounding also exacerbates both Nicola’s perception of events and the reader’s growing interest; there is nothing familiar to fall back on. The most beckoning trail could lead the danger, and the most unassuming building could house a great secret.

Even though I had read this before, I recalled only the basic framework of the plot and still couldn’t quite figure out who to trust. I even mostly fell for an incorrect conclusion Nicola draws at one point. I guess this means I can go back and reread her other books as well!

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Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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