Posts Tagged ‘Isle of Rhodes’

seven tears for apollo phyllis a whitneySeven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis A. Whitney ~ 1963. This edition: Fawcett Crest, 1966. Paperback. 224 pages.

My rating: 5/10

Here’s the back cover blurb on my tattered paperback, relic of one of my high school library’s discard sales way back in the 1970s:

Ever since the sudden, tragic death of her husband, pretty Dorcas Brandt lived in fear. Too many frightening, unexplainable things had begun to happen – the fatal accident to a close friend, the mysterious warnings scrawled on her mirror, her room ransacked.

Dorcas fled to Greece in search of sanctuary. But even on the beautiful island of Rhodes she could never escape the shadows of terror.

Was she just imagining it all?

Had the loss of her husband unhinged her mind?

Or was someone really out to destroy her?

Well, which one of those options would you suppose is the correct one?

If you guessed number three, you’d be bang on target. Dorcas is being persecuted, poor girl, and by a collective at that. Anyone she confides in either openly sneers at her allegations, patronizes her, or steps up the pressure. But why, oh why?

Here’s the story. We start out in the U.S.A., in an unspecified location that might just be New York, or possibly some other major eastern city. Some years back, museum curator’s lovely seventeen-year-old daughter Dorcas made a very bad marriage indeed, to sleek, handsome, half-Greek, half-Italian and all-wrong Gino. He turned out to be deceitful, manipulative, and physically violent; when Dorcas attempts to depart the marriage with baby daughter Beth, one of Gino’s mysterious “friends” pursues her and brings her back, warning her that it would be a very bad idea indeed to cross Gino, as what he owns (inferring Dorcas and Beth) he holds on to. Or else.

Gino’s profession as an art dealer is slightly nebulous but apparently profitable. Dorcas suspects that all of Gino’s transactions are not strictly legal, but she has no real proof, just an uneasy feeling which no one else seems to share, as Gino has a wide circle of influential friends in the arts-and-culture world, including matronly Fernanda, a best-selling author of quirky travel books, who has mothered Gino for years and extends her kindly meant but overbearing patronage to his wife and child.

Now nasty Gino has perished in a plane crash, and Dorcas is attempting to move forward in her life. She’s been having some emotional issues; Gino has had her in a facility for psychological treatment for her alleged neuroses, and Fernanda has been overseeing young Beth’s care. Now, since her widowhood and release from psychiatric care, Dorcas is herself living with Fernanda, acting as Fernanda’s secretary-assistant,  and reacquainting herself with four-year-old Beth. An upcoming trip to the Isle of Rhodes seems to be a positive step for everyone. Fernanda will gather material for her latest book; Dorcas will get a chance to experience Greece and see at first hand the sights that her late father could only dream of; Beth will bond with her mother in the bits in between.

As Dorcas stands in front of the museum copy of a statue of Apollo, steeling herself for the emotional journey she is about to embark upon, tears come to her lovely eyes, as she recalls her first meeting with the man that would become her husband – in front of this very statue, only a few months after her beloved father’s death – and Gino’s mysterious pronouncement that she must weep seven times for Apollo before she could shake the bonds that held her – whatever that had meant, if anything.

Dorcas weeps her way through this novel, with – I’ll give her that – abundant good reason. Gino brutalized her and left her physically traumatized and an emotional wreck; Beth has been virtually adopted by well-meaning Fernanda, with Dorcas’s contact with her daughter being held up as reward for good (meaning calm and rational) behaviour; and people – most notably Fernanda – insist on viewing Dorcas as a bereaved widow, when she is in actuality very relieved to be free of her malicious spouse. Everyone thinks Dorcas is a bit of a mess, and she tends to concur – though with slightly different reasoning.

Lately Dorcas has been finding evidence of a mysterious intruder in her room, with her belongings being ransacked, and a strange symbol being soaped on her mirror, or chalked on the floor – two circles, like the eyes of an owl. What could this mean?! And what is the apparent interest in a cryptic letter Gino had received just before his death, which Dorcas has refused to share with Gino’s associates, and which has now disappeared?

The average reader will be quicker off the mark than lovely, confused, jittering Dorcas. Something is definitely up, and Gino was obviously deeply involved. This trip to Rhodes will no doubt trigger all sorts of happenings. Beware, pretty lady!

The set-up of the novel is fairly promising, though the author drops some immensely broad hints as to what is coming up, first and foremost being that Gino is perhaps not quite as dead as he should be. The cryptic letter is obviously a clue of some sort to Gino’s last uncompleted nefarious transaction. Wee Beth is a perfect pawn, and will no doubt be used at some point to gain her mother’s cooperation by the as-yet-unidentified bad guys. Fernanda’s kindness will have a cost. Markos’s widow will hold a key secret to the affair. And there will be a romantic interest popping up soon. Ah yes, here he is. Johnny Orion, handsome young American schoolteacher, employed by Fernanda to squire her about Rhodes.

When we discover upon reaching Rhodes that the local museum is missing a major piece of ancient sculpture – the head of a boy with a tear on his cheek – we put two and two together. Obviously the Big Dark Secret has something to do with art theft! (At first I thought it might be drug running. But I swear that art theft was my second guess!)

Things get more and more hectic as the tale goes on, until the final dramatic dénouement, which sees our heroine weeping for what we hope will be the very last time.

This story was really not that great, being awkwardly plotted out throughout, and chock full of implausible action scenes and poorly written dialogue. It was head and shoulders better than Sea Jade and Columbella, though, hence its relatively high rating on my personal scale. I’m giving it a pass, at 5, because I think the author tried really hard to create an interesting scenario, and I could tell her heart was in the right place. It’s just too bad that others (Mary Stewart!) have done it so very much better.

Here’s an excellent review which goes into much more detail, plus it has lovely pictures. All of the troubling bits this blogger identified, I completely concur with, and the positive bits, too. Check it out.

Romantic Armchair Traveller – Seven Tears for Apollo

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