It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it. I won’t pretend I saw it straight away as the conventional herald of adventure, the white stag of the fairytale, which, bounding from the enchanted thicket, entices the prince away from his followers, and loses him in the forest where danger threatens with the dusk. But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?
Author: Mary Stewart
Synopsis: Enticed up a lonely path in rural Crete with a day to spare, Nicola Ferris discovers more than egrets and lemon blossoms: she happens across a man seriously wounded by gunshot, with the story of a murder and a missing boy. Unwilling to leave the feverish Mark to die, Nicola stays to give him aid, and winds up getting more caught up in Mark’s danger than she expects—especially when she at last leaves for her nearby vacation spot, only to discover all of Mark’s top suspects at the hotel where she's staying.
Notes: Most modern mysteries, often featuring psychopathic killers and terrifying action sequences, don’t appeal much to me. Stewart’s tale was unexpected; an enjoyable character portrayal in a beautiful setting, with enough glamour and romance to take pleasure in but not so much that it felt cheap, as well as enough suspense and fear to keep me turning pages, but not enough to make me want to hide under the bedclothes.
Nicola is likable, adventurous, and believable, and easy to sympathize with. Her supporting cast works well alongside her: adorable Mark, is-he-good-or-is-he-bad Lambis, sad Sofia, friendly and slightly skeezy Stratos, and strong-willed, humorous cousin Frances (who would nowadays never get away with referring to Tony as “Little Lord Fauntleroy”; one never quite knows what will be très passé fifty years later, I suppose.) There’s not a lot of suspense about who most of the bad guys are, just concern for all the important characters’ ability to escape the little town of Agios Georgios in safety.
It’s bad form to say much about the end of a mystery novel, so I’ll just say that it wraps up exactly the way a romantic suspense tale should.
Recommendation: Read it for a summery mystery set in the beautiful Mediterranean.