Sometimes, mystery novels are the better travel guides. Delphi is beautiful; and everybody knows about its temples and ruins. The landscape around and behind this tourist Delphi is mostly forgotten. This book takes you to God Apollo's Parnassus Mountain where Pan is still playing his flutes. If you want to look at Delphi from the other side, Mary Stewart is showing it all in a well written story.
Mary Stewart's mystery novel My Brother Michael is set in Delphi in Greece. this isn't the Delphi from the package ads or the glossy travel catalogs. Outside of the beaten tourist track and out of sight of the ruins' visitors, there is a wild and dangerous landscape with live people instead of statues. Mary Stewart's novel takes you over sheep trails and walkways known to locals only. These hiking adventures start above the stadium and some of them lead to the village of Amphissa on the next hill. Some trails take you down to the fishing village of Itea, its green fields, olive groves, and harbour linking it to the Peloponnese.
The story is unusual set up for one of Mary Stewart's mystery novels. It has the literary form of a quest out of which the mysteries evolve. The history reaches back into Greece's involvement in World War II. The Allies poured money and weapons into the fracture Greek resistance battling German occupation. Very little money and less weapons were ever used to combat the German foe. Greek communists stashed away what they could to start a civil war just as soon as the occupation ended.
Digging into Greece's recent unsavory past, she sets one of her best mystery plots. The story presents historical facts as part of the storyline that are still kept under wraps by changing Greek governments and their officials since World War II ended. The setting in the beautiful mountains of Greece lets Mary Stewart ride her favourite hobby horse: Describing landscape with sounds and smells. Her power of description is such that readers are right there with dust, heat, and all. See the gods still walking the mountainside of Parnassus and hear Pan playing his flute to goats and sheep foraging for grass.
the plot is simple enough. A British liaison officer reported dead during World War II was seemingly killed under suspect circumstances without German help. The last thing his family received from him in England was a puzzling letter containing a real gold coin. Years after the war, his younger brother sets out for Delphi to find out how his brother had died and where he was buried. With him are the letter, the gold coin, and a long list of questions. Into this steps Mary Stewart's heroine after a famous 'nothing ever happens to me' remark.
There is a drawback to this book for everyone who has visited Delphi and missed out on all the landscape, the walks, and the climbs. It will just convince you that you'll want to go back. If you have plans to travel there in the future, you'll know to allow for more time than just one day of hot ruin plodding. Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael is available on Kindle. Don't forget to take it along when you visit Greece.