A de­tec­tive se­ries gives a shrewd take on Greece.

Who needs a plane ticket when books can take us wher­ever we want to go? The first of a Metro se­ries looks at how Anne Zouroudi’s de­tec­tive nov­els of­fer a shrewd and at­mo­spheric take on Greece.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT— FRANCES WALSH

Even putting aside the NZ$500 bil­lion debt bur­den and the refugee cri­sis, it’s still not all ci­cadas singing in the ferny branches of tamarisk trees in Greece — not all sweet pas­tries with wal­nuts (kataifi) and old men play­ing backgam­mon (tavli) in cafes while knock-kneed don­keys (gaidouria) bow their heads out­side white-washed chapels over­look­ing seas of turquoise, lapis lazuli, sap­phire, ul­tra­ma­rine and/or cobalt.

The an­cient coun­try, with its ar­chi­pel­ago of 3000 is­lands, is as dark as it’s sunny, ac­cord­ing to Anne Zouroudi. The English au­thor sets eight de­tec­tive nov­els there, show­cas­ing the seven deadly sins as well as the in­stinc­tual rather than the CSI abil­i­ties of crime-solv­ing Her­mes Di­ak­toros.

Yes, Zouroudi’s pro­tag­o­nist is the son of

Zeus. He walks among mor­tals, in some fairly naff out­fits, it has to be said: Ital­ian suits of grey mo­hair shot with laven­der hints teamed with pas­tel-coloured polo shirts belted into the pants. And he al­ways wears white sneak­ers, winged-san­dal sub­sti­tutes. He ar­rives, ex machina, in­vari­ably in some stul­ti­fy­ing back­wa­ter where a man can be a leg­end “for grow­ing a giant cu­cum­ber … or sur­viv­ing a fall from a rooftop”, just as vi­o­lence has been per­pe­trated. Un­der a flam­ing-red sky he comes across, for ex­am­ple, a bee­keeper — giv­ing off “musky sweat strong as a billy goat’s” — dead, bloody, and bro­ken among the moun­tain shrubs.

The con­trivance may sound too cute in parts. But while Zouroudi is not hard-boiled, nei­ther is she cosy, partly be­cause Her­mes is way more sul­phurous and aveng­ing than Her­cules Poirot: he se­cretes a scor­pion in an old lady’s hand­bag in The Mes­sen­ger of Athens (lust/fish­ing/wife thrown over cliff). In The Taint of Mi­das (greed/ real es­tate/bee­keeper — re­fer above) he or­ches­trates an im­mo­la­tion. Even when Zouroudi is serv­ing up charm­ing de­tails, as she of­ten does, there’s in­evitably a kicker. In The Bull of Mithros (sloth/an­tiq­ui­ties/layabout up­ended down a well) a banker serves his clients with an owl on his shoul­der, un­til it dies and he stuffs it.

Zouroudi is an el­e­gant plot­ter, and sub-plot­ter. In a post-mod­ern mo­ment in The Gifts of Po­sei­don (mul­ti­ple sins/tuna/fil­i­cide) and in a dis­cus­sion about de­tec­tion fic­tion Her­mes notes: “You can never be sure un­til you get to the very end.” Char­ac­ters are also highly plau­si­ble: a por­trait of envy and sis­terly ri­valry — over a French medic blinded by acid at the chapel of St Paraskevi — in The Doc­tor of Thes­saly is both acute and heart-break­ing.

The grue­some­ness of Hel­lenic pa­tri­archy is one of Zouroudi’s leit­mo­tifs, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly. She ap­peared in the 2014 Bri­tish television pro­gramme I Mar­ried the Waiter: Love in the Sun. Zouroudi met her ex-hus­band on the is­land of Symi: “Af­ter the mar­riage, Ge­orge did change,” she con­fessed. In The Doc­tor of Thes­saly Her­mes gives ad­vice to the lonely Evan­gelia: “Men aren’t such a de­sir­able species, when you look at it. They might start out so, but mar­riage has a strange ef­fect on them. It makes them fat, and bald, and short-tem­pered. They belch and snore and eye up pretty girls. You’re bet­ter off with­out, be­lieve me. Too many women trade their free­dom for bad bar­gains.”

Other leit­mo­tifs: po­lice­men are of­ten lazy, and some preda­tory; English tourists wouldn’t recog­nise a de­cent olive to save them­selves; the Greek Or­tho­dox Church is some­what ris­i­ble. In The Feast of Artemis (glut­tony/olives/cyanide) Her­mes has fun at the ex­pense of St Fanou­rios the Re­vealer, pa­tron saint of lost things: for a suc­cess­ful in­ter­ces­sion, a pe­ti­tioner must make a cake for the soul of the saint’s mother.

In her at­mo­spheric nov­els Zouroudi has much to say about those liv­ing on the mar­gins, although she is rarely po­lit­i­cal — an Eat the Rich T-shirt puts in an ap­pear­ance in 2013. Two years later in the non-fic­tional world, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras ig­nited Europe with Marx­ism and anti-aus­ter­ity fury. But while the Homer-quot­ing Her­mes dis­penses kind­ness to those who de­serve it, and scor­pi­ons to those who don’t, he’s largely philo­soph­i­cal: “Look now how mor­tals blame the gods, for they say that evils come from us, but in fact they them­selves have woes be­yond their share be­cause of their own fol­lies.”

The Mes­sen­ger of Athens (2007), The Taint of Mi­das (2008), The Doc­tor of Thes­saly (2009), The Lady of Sor­rows (2010), The Whis­pers of Neme­sis (2011), The Bull of Mithros (2012), The Feast of Artemis (2013) and The Gifts of Po­sei­don (2016) are avail­able from Auck­land Li­braries.

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