27/01/2008

Strangers in Company (by Jane Aiken Hodge)

I first came across Jane Aiken Hodge as a writer of historical novels. I then learned that she has also written a number of contemporary light romantic thrillers - or, at least, they were contemporary in the 1960s and 1970s. I'm not a fan of thrillers in general, but when the ending is guaranteed to be satisfactory, and the suspense isn't too great, I find them an interesting diversion from time to time.

I have only once before read 'Strangers in Company'- in 1999, so it was overdue for a re-read. I finished it in just a few hours; it's not a long book, and is fast-paced and quite exciting, so I picked it up several times rather than just leaving it for bedtime.

The heroine is Marian, in her mid-thirties, and trying to get over the shock of her eighteen-year-old twins leaving her to live with their father in the USA. She has been feeling a bit paranoid, but decides to take a job looking after a younger woman, Stella, on a coach tour to Greece. It seems to be the answer to all her worries - financial and otherwise - although there is some mystery surrounding Stella's background.

As the tour gets underway, some odd things happen, including some very serious accidents. People become suspicious, and nobody is at all sure whom they can trust. Marion becomes increasingly worried, both for her own sake and for Stella's, and at the same time tries to resist her increasing attraction to a friendly classics professor who is also on the tour.

I had completely forgotten the plot, and all its ramifications, so I was gripped right until the last chapters, wondering - like Marian - who her friends were, if anyone. The writing is tense and concise, and yet builds believable characters with ease.

A fair amount of Greek politics is included, as well as classical history, much of which passed me by; I'm no fan of political history. It didn't seem to matter too much, despite being of more significance to the main plot than I would have liked.

It seems a bit dated now, and I suppose in another twenty or thirty years will count as historical fiction - but I'm old enough to remember the 1970s, when this was written, and thought it realistic for the time.

Recommended if you like a not-too-suspenseful thriller with a very low-key romantic thread running through it. Now out of print in both the UK and USA, but it's the kind of book that often seems to turn up second-hand.

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