Now that we’re officially in British Summertime – despite the appearance of snow today in the UK. I thought it would be nice to venture to sunnier climes. As we’re all going to be confined to home for the foreseeable, we’ll need to get our holiday fixes vicariously so I thought today we’d visit a little bit of Greece with author Marjory McGinn. Marjory has written two novels set in the Mani region of Southern Greece. It’s an area she knows well having lived there for four years, but that’s another story (or several as it happens but that’s all for a later post).
Marjory’s first book A Saint for the Summer is a contemporary story which combines family drama, romance and a World War II mystery, with a cast of intriguing and memorable characters.
A SAINT FOR THE SUMMER
JOURNALIST Bronte McKnight is summoned to a hillside village in the wild and beautiful Mani region of Greece by her estranged, expat father Angus to help him with a medical problem. But she soon discovers that Angus, whom she has barely seen in 10 years, has lured her there with a trickier challenge in mind – solving a mystery from the Second World War when a family member disappeared in Greece during the disastrous Battle of Kalamata, ‘Greece’s Dunkirk’.
With the country gripped by economic crisis in 2012, and the clock ticking against them, their near-impossible quest takes Angus and Bronte from Kalamata to a remote mountain village where its few remaining inhabitants are bound by old traditions and secrecy. As the pair try to reconcile their own fractured relationship, they are helped in their search for Kieran by a cast of intriguing Greek characters, especially charismatic doctor, Leonidas Papachristou. He has a pivotal role, not least in challenging Bronte’s assumption that she hasn’t the time nor the courage to fall in love in Greece.
The secrets unearthed by Angus and Bronte will be painful and astonishing.
Marjory explains that the idea for this book began to take shape in her mind during the four years in southern Greece from 2010 with her partner Jim and mischievous terrier Wallace. While the narrative is based on real events, the characters are fictitious, but there is a gentle nod to some of the more memorable people they met while in Greece, with their eccentric and charming personalities, and lifestyle.
The fictional hillside village of Marathusa that features in the book was inspired by the village settlements scattered throughout the Taygetos mountains including Megali Mantineia. Mount Taygetos is one of the highest mountains in the Peloponnese at a height of 2404 meters. It has beautiful forests covering the middle mountain zone and fragrant phrygana shrubs sprinkled in the lower parts of the mountain. The gorges and ravines shaded by plane trees are all features of a wild and beautiful landscape that captivates visitors.
Taygetos overlooks the cities of Sparti (or Sparta as we know it) and Kalamata, whose skyline it dominates.
A pivotal part of the book’s narrative, revolves around what happened to Angus’s relative serving in the Royal Army Service Corp in Greece in 1941 and ending up at the Battle of Kalamata. A battle after which Around 8,000 soldiers were left behind on Kalamata beach and were told by their British commanding officer that they were now on their own and free to make their own escape.
A Saint For The Summer is not a war book as such, but a gripping tale, and a certain Greek saint may just hold one of the keys to solving the book’s central mystery – hence the title. You’ll have to read the book to discover why that’s the case. As an incentive the ebook is currently available to buy until Tuesday for 99p.
For those that have already read A Saint for the Summer you’ll be delighted to know that a sequel was recently published. Based again in the wild Mani region of the southern Peloponnese, the new novel features the same main characters (Bronte, Angus, Leonidas, Myrto) and a few exciting new ones. It deals with some gripping contemporary storylines. One of these reflects the social upheaval of the economic crisis in 2013 with a rise in extreme far-right political parties based on the author’s own observations of living in Greece during this tumultuous period. The book is laced with plenty of suspense, but also unforgettable romance and humour. It can be read equally as a standalone, or as a sequel.
Expat Bronte McKnight is in the early days of her love affair with charismatic doctor Leonidas Papachristou. But as Bronte tries to live and love like a Greek, the economic crisis spawns an unlikely predator in the village. While she begins to question her sunny existence in Greece, an old love from Leonidas’s past also makes a troubling appearance.
Now working as a freelance journalist, when Bronte is offered an interview with a famous novelist, and part-time expat, it seems serendipitous. But the encounter becomes a puzzle that takes her deep into the wild Mani region of the southern Peloponnese, for which she enlists the help of her maverick father Angus, and the newest love of her life, Zeffy, the heroic rescue dog.
The challenges Bronte faces bring dramatic as well as humorous outcomes as she tries to find a foothold in her Greek paradise. But can she succeed?
This second novel, like the first, is set mainly in the hillside village of Marathousa, with the same breathtaking scenery, but it also takes the readers to untouched and unforgettable places deeper in the Mani peninsula as dramatic as the storyline, including the ghostly, deserted village of Vathia.
Vathia was one the strongholds of warring clans in the Mani, here tough, warring Maniot clans built high fortified towers as they fought for dominance but it is now a dramatic ghost village.
It also features the picturesque Porto Kayio cove
More eerily we can also take a visit to the fabled cave of Hades (portal to the Underworld) near Cape Tainaron, at the southern-most tip of mainland Greece.
As well as discovering more about the beautiful Greek landscape, one of the newest characters in the book is the lovable dog, Zeffy, whom Bronte rescues from his homeless existence in the village and who will make you laugh and cry with some of his capers. He will, however, repay Bronte’s love for him in many unexpected ways.
Are you tempted? I know I am.