Now that I’m finally leaving Greece (move scheduled for the next two weeks), I’m finding it much easier to read crime novels set in hot climes. There was an interesting discussion on the subject during the ’50 Different Words for Murder’ panel during the Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate. Liza Marklund, rightly in my view, pointed out that societies with existing social problems can be less attractive to read about then say, countries perceived to have a blank canvas, for example England or Sweden. In these latter places, crime writers can cleverly play on people’s perception of safety to show either the underbelly of society or how crime can flourish in seemingly innocuous surroundings. The trouble with places like Athens or Sicily is that we assume that crime is part of society, and particularly if we live there, we don’t want to read about it.
However after spending a hot August in Athens, I’ve read three books in quick succession set in Greece and Italy. The first was Sergio Gakas’s Ashes, which provided a real slice of Greek noir. A former actress Sonia Varika is critically injured in a fire which burns down her house and kills the other occupants. Intent on finding the perpetrator are her ex-lovers Colonel Chronis Halkidis, a coke addicted policeman, and Simeon Piertzovanis, an alcoholic lawyer. These are the good guys. Halkidis has to cope with endemic corruption within the police force but is capable of matching them for ingenuity and deviousness. For me, it had all the elements of a modern Greek tragedy – corrupt politicians, faithless church officials and the purposeful destruction of people’s property for commercial gain. Set in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics I’m not convinced much has changed. However, my local patisserie, the wonderful Vairsos in Kifisia made a guest appearance.
Next I read Bird of Prey by Nikitas Terzis. Simon Drake, a professor of numismatics at a Canadian university spots a young Chinese student cheating in an exam. Rather than reporting her to the authorities he ignores the incident. He then goes on holiday to Greece where he re-meets the student and is sucked into a game comprising of a series of riddles that takes him to some of the Ancient cities of Greece. When rare gold coins go missing, the game turns sour and deadly. Terzis is a Greek-Canadian who very cleverly combines the action across two cultures and at the same time addresses that theme most close to a Greek’s heart, the looting of the country’s ancient artefacts. Again if you have been to, or lived in Greece, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the read
Finally, Andrea Camillleri, whom I’m ashamed to say I have not read before. However, inspired by a number of bloggers and crime fiction aficionados, and in particular the spectacularly well-read Kathy D who often comments on this blog, I gave the first book in the series a go. In The Shape of Water, the deep rooted corruption of officialdom is portrayed through wry observations and acidic dialogue. When a high ranking politician is found dead at a notorious lovers spot, like in Ashes, everyone from the church, the judicial and political system attempt to influence the investigation. But the character of Inspector Montalbano, who dominates the narrative, is able to chart his way through the obfuscation to reach the truth.
All three books were an excellent summer read and really did evoke the countries in which they were set. I’ll hopefully be reading more of crime in the Med in the future.