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It was on Nan's blog that I first learned about Maeve Binchy's death, and Nan has also posted several reviews of her books; this one is among them. You can find her review easily, because Nan's blog is very well organised - of course, you can simply put the book title in the search bar at the top left corner of the blog and find it instantly.
"Nights of Rain and Stars" is a pleasant read without much challenge or suspense; there are no gory details, thrilling murder hunts or steaming sex scenes, but some good character studies and descriptions of places and events. While it can certainly be classified as a Summer Read, it is by no means limited to that; the book can be a good travel companion, or simply enjoyed at home after a day's work in the comfort of your favourite armchair.
The familiar concept of throwing a group of strangers together and see what happens, strangers who under normal circumstances would not have met, let alone become friends, works well here:
Five strangers (one couple, the others each on their own) happen to be at a modest taverna overlooking a harbour and small village on a Greek island, when a fire breaks out on a boat in the harbour, resulting in the death of several locals and tourists.
Watching the tragedy from afar gets the strangers and their host talking to each other, and it is through their conversations that the reader starts to know them all, and, as the story unfolds, some more people from the village are added to the cast.
The five strangers are not simply tourists on a Greek island vacation; each of them has chosen to travel in order to get away from some situation or other back home, and for each of them, the trip becomes a turning point in their lives.
They come from the US, England, Ireland and Germany, from different walks of lives and with different expectations for their future.
Decisions are taken, phone calls made and letters written; the outcome for most of the characters is not all that much of a surprise, but still interesting enough to keep wanting to read on.
Like I said, the character studies are well done - with one exception; Shane, a young Irish man who is on the island with his girlfriend is depicted a bit too black-and-white with nothing likeable about him at all. While such people probably do exist, I found his character rather one-dimensional.
A lot of how the local people go about their lives is very cliché; I have never been to Greece myself but I wonder whether people really drink raki, retsina, ouzo and coffee all the time, whether they really dance to the bouzouki at every occasion and have blue and white checked tablecloths on every table.
Maeve Binchy's writing flows at a very pleasant pace, neither too slow to get boring nor too fast for the reader to lose track of who is who and doing what.
There are two bits where a little research would have helped in getting the facts right:
At the funeral service held after the boat fire, the village children's choir sing hymns in the languages of the victims. The German hymn they choose is "Tannenbaum" ("Oh Christmas Tree") - which is a popular Christmas song and certainly not what is sung at a funeral. And when two of the characters, a German lady and a man from the US, have the word "Reisefieber" come up in conversation, the explanation is wrongly given as it meaning "being in a panic at airports and railway stations". Reisefieber literally means "Travel fever" and refers to the "itch" to pack up and travel, to have a change of scene, of feeling unable to stay at the same place for a long time.
Don't get me wrong - I do not want to complain about the book, it is just that such details bother me, and I think they are better left out (they aren't necessary for the story itself) than being in the book and being wrong.
Overall, I liked this book well enough to give it 4 out of 5 stars on my Amazon review.