Strangers in Company by Jane Aiken Hodge

strangers-in-company Published in 1973, Strangers in Company reminds me of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, or maybe M.M. Kaye’s Death In… series. It is set in Greece and follows the story of Marian Frenche, who is looking for a new job after finding herself at a loose end when her children move away to live with her ex-husband. Marian finds work with an agency who arrange for her to accompany a troubled young woman called Stella Marten on a coach tour of the major Greek archaeological sites. She is given very little information about Stella and her background, apart from a warning that she should be left on her own as little as possible, but after only a few hours in Stella’s company, Marian finds her to be rude, angry and irritable. It’s going to be a difficult trip!

As they set off on their tour, Marian’s time is divided between dealing with Stella’s moods, seeing the sights of Greece and getting to know the other people on the bus. Their fellow passengers include several young schoolteachers, a classics professor, an oddly-matched honeymoon couple and a handsome Greek tour guide. On the surface, they’re just a group of people hoping to enjoy a holiday in the sun and possibly learn something new along the way, but when accidents begin to befall members of the party – too many to be a coincidence – Marian is forced to accept that there could be someone on the tour who is not as innocent as he or she appears. Worse still, it seems that Marian herself could be the next target…

My first introduction to the work of Jane Aiken Hodge came a few years ago when I read and enjoyed Watch the Wall, My Darling, a gothic novel set in 19th century Sussex. Strangers in Company feels very different, having a contemporary setting, but I enjoyed this one even more. I loved the descriptions of Greece and its ancient historical sites, and with the benefit of Google to find pictures of the less famous places the characters visit, I almost felt as though I’d been on the tour myself! I did become very aware of my limited knowledge of more recent Greek history, particularly the period following the civil war of the 1940s, but although I wished I’d read up on this before starting the book, it wasn’t really a problem at all.

I’ve said that this book felt similar to a Mary Stewart novel (some of hers have a Greek setting too) and I think I was right to make that comparison because halfway through the book there’s a scene where Marian spends an afternoon relaxing with a copy of Stewart’s My Brother Michael! I don’t think Jane Aiken Hodge’s writing is as good as Stewart’s, however, and the characters are not as likeable or as well drawn (I found it hard to tell some of the members of the tour group apart). I was also slightly disappointed with the final few chapters of the book – I felt that, as the mystery began to unfold and revelations were made, the plot became very far-fetched and difficult to believe. Otherwise, though, I thought this was a great read!

I have another of Jane Aiken Hodge’s novels, Red Sky at Night, on my shelf still to be read. Has anyone read that one – or any of her others?

17 thoughts on “Strangers in Company by Jane Aiken Hodge

  1. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve just realised that there is a Jane and a Joan in that family. I recently read Jane’s bio of Georgette Heyer, thinking it was by the author of the children’s books – her sister Joan. I like the sound of this one, especially as it reminds you of Mary Stewart’s books.

  2. calmgrove says:

    Another thriller set in Greece and also including ancient archaeology is Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January. You may find this more effective as a thriller but as I haven’t either read Stewart’s or Hodge’s novels I can’t judge.

  3. Lark says:

    I’ve always liked reading novels like this one; Stewart and Kaye are two of my favorites, and I’ve liked the one book by Hodge that I’ve read. I just wish her other novels were more readily available. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I love this type of novel too. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Hodge and still have plenty of Stewart’s and Kaye’s left to read as well. 🙂

  4. whatmeread says:

    I have my review of this book in my queue to be posted, but I thought much the same about it as you did. I think it is almost an homage to Stewart, as some of the plot resembles that of My Brother Michael, too. I read quite a bit of Hodge in the past, but this is the only one I recall being set in a current time rather than historical.

  5. Sandra says:

    My attention was caught by the reference to her previous novel, set in Cornwall 😉 A quick read of your review of that suggests it might be quite a fun read for me 🙂 (Made me smile that the characters in Watch the Wall, my Darling include a Ross and a Verity. Homage to Poldark perhaps!)

    • Helen says:

      That didn’t occur to me at the time as I hadn’t read or watched Poldark at that point, but yes, it seems like an obvious connection! I think you might enjoy it, especially as it’s set in Cornwall.

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