The first three books in the Alex Mavros series were published between 2002 and 2004, forming a trilogy which reflected Paul Johnston’s experiences living first on a Greek island and then in Athens. There then followed a hiatus in the series while the author wrote some other excellent books, although the Greek trilogy was reissued with a new publisher in 2009. Finally in 2011 we had a new book in the series, set on the island of Crete.
In his introduction, Johnston explains that rather than updating Mavros to 2012 and placing him in the middle of the Greek economic crisis, he wanted to pick up the narrative where it finished in the last book The Golden Silence. So The Silver Stain is set in 2003, which as he rightly points out was the period leading up to the Olympics, where huge public spending contributed to Greece’s current debt problems. Crete was a good choice of location for the book as there is a timelessness about the island with the vestiges of Minoan, Venetian, Ottoman and German occupation. It is the legacy of the Second World War that forms the basis of The Silver Stain.
Alex Mavros is hired by a film production company to find Maria Kondos, the assistant to glamorous actress Cara Parks, who has gone missing on Crete. Cara is refusing to carry on filming until her assistant is found and Alex is given a generous allowance to find the girl. However when he reaches the island he discovers the subject of the film, the Battle of Crete in 1941, is stirring up unhappy memories of the occupation for many islanders. When Rudi Kersten, the German owner of the luxury hotel where Alex is staying is found hanged from a tree, his fate seems connected to events of 1941. Alex’s investigation also brings him to the attention of one of the most dangerous villages on the island, Kornaria, which is a no-go area for local law enforcers because of its current drugs activities.
As you would expect from a Paul Johnston novel, the book was an absorbing read full of interesting detail about life on Crete. He cleverly makes much of the contradiction between the unhappy memories of Nazi occupation alongside the growing neo-Nazi movement amongst disaffected Greek youths, an issue very much in the news now. He also, through the narrative, emphasises the extent to which the events of the Second World War remain a continuing obsession amongst modern Greeks.
Crete remains an island with its own sense of justice and the imagined village of Kornaria has a real life precedent. Even other islanders despair at the lawlessness and corruption of the village that has bribed every official. Alex Mavros, with his leather jacket and gung-ho attitude seems at home in the setting and by emphasising his mixed Greek-Scottish ancestry, you can see the tension between his patriotism and his despair at the irrationality of many of the islanders’ attitudes. However, there is also a sense of things changing. The Tsifakis family are a wonderful creation, Cretan, but helping Alex to uncover wrongdoings on the island
As a crime novel, The Silver Stain worked well and there were couple of red-herrings so I had fixated on the wrong character as the villain. Alex’s girlfriend, Niki, remains the only irritating character in this series and I had hoped she wouldn’t reappear in this book. I’m sure it’s deliberate as Alex seems as irritated with her as the reader. There are apparently more Alex Mavros books on their way which I’m already looking forward to reading.