Optimistic simplicity

The Moon-Spinners - Mary Stewart

Charming and harrowing simultaneously, this romantic thriller was a fun ride. The heroine Nicola is a twenty-two-year-old undersecretary at the British Embassy in Athens, Greece. On vacation in Crete, she stumbles upon a young wounded Englishman Mark, hiding in the mountains from some mysterious villains who shot him.

From this point, the tension never leaves the story. It doesn’t always mounts; instead it fluctuates, coming at the reader in waves, like the sea that surrounds Crete. Some moments, Nicola almost forgets her scary encounter with Mark and enjoys her idyllic vacation, the balmy weather, and the awesome views, and we relax with her. Other moments, we turn the pages rapidly, our hearts beating for the brave girl and her foolish but noble escapades.

Not knowing whom to trust or where to look for help, she nevertheless wouldn’t abandon her quest to help Mark, to find out what happened and who is responsible. Her quick wits and inventive tongue always come to her rescue, as she navigates the ancient land and the foreign waters of international crime. In the end, we rejoice with her and Mark triumphing over their enemies.    

The beautiful countryside, the aromatic flowers, and the majestic mountains serve as a picturesque backdrop of the galloping story of murder and mayhem, and a little bit of love. Published in 1962, the novel presents the character’s love as clean and chaste. You wouldn’t find a sex scene there, not even a lovers’ kiss, but the attraction growing across the pages is unmistakable and deep.

The legend of the moon-spinners that lent their names to the title is part of the novel: Nicola tells it to Mark. I don’t know if it’s a real Greek legend or the author’s invention, but it’s a quaint little story, fitting the romantic flavor of the novel. Night after night, three naiads walk the mountains of Crete, spinning the moonlight, until the moon is gone, and the darkness conceals every little creature from the hunters. Then the naiads come down to the sea to wash their unearthly yarn, and it slips off their spindles, rippling over the water from the shore to the horizon, and the moon rises again, gradually collecting all its lost light. Until it is full, and the moon-spinners start spinning again. 

This was a simple and delightful read, enchanting like the Greek myths but with much more optimism.