Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Anne Zouroudi: The Messenger of Athens

Oh, what joy to find a new crime writer! I love all kinds of puzzles and crime fiction is one of my addictions, but I also like them well-written. So many of them are plot driven - with clever twists and turns, lots of surprises and relentless narrative hooks, but with little thought for depth of characterisation or realistic motivation. Exceptions to this include P.D. James, Patricia Highsmith, Kate Atkinson, and Bernard Self - and I love all their books.
So it’s fantastic to discover another in Anne Zouroudi. I saw her books advertised by posters on the London Underground - (an expensive form of promotion but it obviously works). I was intrigued by the titles - I’m fascinated by everything Greek (the influence of an old-fashioned classics based education I suspect) - so I decided to give her books a try, beginning with the very first - The Messenger of Athens, published in 2007.
The book is well-structured - the investigation of the crime is parallelled by the back-story told in multiple points of view by the characters, including the victim - complicated and difficult for an author to bring off - but it does give the reader a complete understanding of the motives and the tragic conspiracy of circumstances that lead to the death.
Hermes Diaktoros, the investigator, is a fat man in an expensive suit and white tennis shoes, who speaks Greek with an impeccably pure accent and never gives away why he’s been sent to the island of Thiminos, or who has sent him. He arrives on the ferry and walks unannounced into the police station. ‘He stood at the centre of the room and placed his holdall carefully at his feet, as if it might contain something fragile. The three policemen watched , silent and unwelcoming as if he had intruded at a crucial moment on some private conversation.’ ‘I have been sent from Athens,’ he announces enigmatically, ‘to help you in your investigations into the death of Irini Asimakopoulos.’ His assistance is not required and the corruption of the local police force is clear from the beginning. Irini’s file is closed and no one wants it opened again. But no one is going to prevent Hermes from fulfilling his mission.
Anne Zouroudi gives us a vivid picture of a small Greek Island with an inward facing group of inhabitants who have inter-married incestuously generation after generation, passing on the old systems of honour, codes of relationship, that once ensured survival in a brutal world dominated by the four elements - fire, air, water and earth. One of the younger characters - Theo - meditates on the frustrations of life on the island and the sense of inevitability, of an inescapable fate.
To know the place of his grave from early childhood has an effect on a man. To place flowers on the ground where he himself will one day lie makes him fatalistic, pessimistic. Ambition and ideas for life atrophy - after all, what is the point? Life’s point, on this island, was always clearly visible, up there on the hillside. Eyes raised from chores or play took in the high, white cemetery walls, where for every one of them the family tomb was waiting for their corpse. All knew exactly where life was leading them; all the eating, drinking, fornicating, worrying, working, wishing it were different, wishing there were more, were only steps on that narrow road. They were all travelling together, towards the cemetery gates.’
In this enclosed community, someone from another part of Greece is a stranger, not to be trusted. Gossip becomes truth, moral cowardice can mean someone’s death. The victim, Irini, dies because she does not belong and refuses to conform to the rigid ‘norms’ of the society around her, which has a vast contempt for the modern world, only a ferry ride away. Irini’s life, her hunger for a different fate, is so real, you can hear the sea from her window, and smell the coffee she boils on the stove for her husband.
Hermes Diaktoros, the messenger, unravels the lines of motivation with super-natural intuition, drawing a distinction between who actually killed Irini and who is morally responsible.
This is an enjoyable and satisfying read and I’ve already ordered her other books - the Taint of Midas and the Doctor of Thessaly. And I gather there’s a new one due out in hardback next year which will definitely have to go on my birthday list!

No comments:

Post a Comment