THE LIGHT-BLUE HILLS (1959)

1959 The Bodley Head.

 

Scarcely knowing what to expect, they entered Dubrovnik by way of the small, sixteenth-century harbour and walked into the town from the east. A bridge led over a dry ditch and there was a great arch of undressed stone blocks surmounted by a canopied niche containing the statue of a saint. Diana and David passed underneath this and found themselves within the city.

There were three bookshops in the main street. There was also the shop recommended by Cantelli where they were to enquire for the next link in the chain which was destined to lead them to Paul Capoulos.

At first glance, David and Diana Scott appear to be two siblings with nothing more to do than appreciate the excellent Mediterranean vistas from the deck of the S.S. Goneril. But they are making their voyage along the European coast with a very singular purpose in mind: their solicitor father wants them to find a missing heir to an English fortune. As a boy, Paul Capoulos went missing when his mother died abroad, and it is the Scotts’ daunting task to pick up his trail. In Venice, a shady contact sends the hunters to a doll shop in Yugoslavia, and while they wind their way up the Adriatic, a lady traveler and history professor named Baptista Webster appears to take an uncommon interest in their destination. Unwilling to trust anyone—a sizeable fortune is at stake—David and Diana try to keep their cards close to their vest.

One of their aces soon goes missing: the last photograph of Paul, in monastic robe and hood, disappears from David’s cabin. Undeterred, the trail takes the pair to Greece where, visiting the Oracle of Delphi, Diana receives an unusual prophecy. Following this hunch leads David to a monastery on Mount Olympus (women are not allowed within the walls). But it is a youth found asleep in a shepherd’s hut who answers to the name of Paul Capoulos, much to the surprise of his searchers. As the group advances upon the island of Sicily for a final piece of the puzzle, the plans and identities of the crooks become clear. David and Diana are ready for their often beautiful voyage to end and return, heir in tow, to their father and their home base.


The Light-Blue Hills (its title taken from Keats’ Endymion) was “specially written for the Earlham Library by a teacher who is best known for her masterly detective novels,” according to the dustjacket text. It proves a light but engaging little book, and carries the benefit of protagonists who are a bit more adult—and therefore their situation is a little more mature—than those in Gladys Mitchell’s other “adventure stories for boys and girls.” The result is less physical action and more conversational theorizing, which is all to the good. David and Diana Scott are a rather sober, intelligent young couple, fully up to the task of searching for a missing boy who has come into an inheritance. There’s also an unusual—and brief—frisson of sexual tension between the sister and adopted brother that is never less than gentlemanly but still buoys the relationship above sibling snipings.

If half the book concerns itself with the missing heir, the other half revels in its constantly changing travelogue panoramas. Miss Mitchell makes the most out of the hunt, sending the Scotts around Spain, all throughout Greece, over to the islands of Rhodes and Sicily, and even up to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. The most memorable descriptions are reserved for the temple at Delphi and the mountainside monasteries (“You don’t any longer have to be hauled up in a basket,” remarks David). As Gladys Mitchell has always had a talent for evoking landscapes in her writing, The Light-Blue Hills is as instructive a journey for the readers as it is for its protagonists.