As in other Mary Stewart classics, the action of "This Rough Magic" takes place in a mere matter of days. Lucy Waring, a twenty-something actress steps off the London stage and onto the idyllic Ionian island of Corfu. In a the course of a morning swim, paradise transforms to a place of sinister doings: someone shoots at a tamed dolphin, a young Greek drowns off the coast of Albania, and a smuggler washes up dead in a nearby cove. Stewart uses all her formidable skill, crafting a strong story that is both literary and fast moving. Told from Lucy's point-of-view, the reader's is kept as taut as a wire as the tension mounts not only while Lucy attempts to determine the identity of the wrongdoer and the reason for his misdemeanors but as she inadvertently puts herself in harm's way.
Playfully, Stewart pulls out all the stops, introducing one of her most cleverly contrived secondary characters, Sir Julian Gale, a Lawrence Olivier facsimile whose theory that the island setting of Shakespeare's "Tempest" and Corfu are one and the same adds much charm and ambiance to an already gloriously depicted exotic locale. Cleverer still, she employs the idea of the deus ex machina in a most enjoyable sequence, where the 'god' is a young Greek male and the 'machine', his improbable motorcycle.
As always, the Stewart heroine impeccably relates each event as it occurs with an astonishing literacy--the language employed borders on poetry; the reader actually smells every flower, is blinded by the lush colors of the foilage and stung by the salt of the Ionian Sea. In kind, Stewart characterizes her Greeks with an affectionate curiosity and love of the stranger; their traditions and rituals are reported with much respect and admiration.
As noted in some of my other reviews of Stewart's work, this author's masterly use of plot, character, language and style puts her in a genre all her own. She is quite definitely incomparable. 'This Rough Magic" is one of my favorite Stewart selections: one of a trio of novels set in Greece and the Greek Isles that uses the strained politics of the late 50s and early 60s as a backdrop to catapult a rather normal UK female protagonist into an abnormal situation where the British sense of responsibility is shown to positive advantage.
Recommended with the wish that all the Stewart suspense tales are reissued in trade paperback with Reader's Questions.