The Messenger of Athens – Anne Zouroudi

Hermes Diaktoros wears white canvas sneakers, not winged sandals. But I suspect he is a Greek god anyway. In Anne Zouroudi’s contemporary mysteries set in the inbred cultures of Greek islands, her oversize sleuth is fanatic about keeping his shoes pristine with the help of white liquid polish, and about cleaning up the messes humans make with original and unofficial retribution. The Messenger of Athens introduces Diaktoros, the fat man, and spins a convoluted tale of love, lust, passion, rage, greed, duplicity, and misguided tradition.

A woman’s body is found at the bottom of a rocky cliff on the isolated island of Thiminos. She is labelled a suicide, case closed, and then the fat man arrives on the ferry. He is an amazingly self-contained character–unflappable, all-knowing, no-bullshit, and don’t try to give him any. He deals with human foibles like a being who has seen it all before and can’t be blindsided or diverted from his mission. His mission, as he tells everyone who will listen, is to find out who killed Irini Asimakopoulos. This isn’t a question anyone wants asked–or answered.

But the fat man knows a terrific amount of dirt about the players in this local drama and he doesn’t hesitate to use it. He’s a relaxed and persistent sleuth. He does wicked little things like hide nasty insects in matchboxes and leave them behind for people he is displeased with to find. He pokes into everyone’s business. He claims to be an investigator from a higher authority than the Metropolitan Police, although he doesn’t deny that he comes from Athens.  A few people confide in him, a few more are afraid of him. In alternating chapters, the reader sees inside the mind of Irini before she dies and portraits of lives and marriages in a stifling culture come into focus.

I liked the second book in this series slightly better but the delicious karmic reckonings in The Messenger of Athens are both satisfying and entertaining. Zouroudi pulls back the curtain on a Greece the casual tourist will never see and the adventures of her sleuth seem like chapters in an Homeric epic. Lots of symbolism and subtle (sometimes not subtle) references to classics–just a really good series. I hope she is a fast writer because Hermes Diaktoros is intriguing enough to want to follow as he rights wrongs and deflates hubris without running out of clean shirts or muddying up his blinding white shoes.

The Messenger of Athens: A Novel (Seven Deadly Sins Mysteries)   Anne Zouroudi | Little, Brown and Company   2007

See related post: The Taint of Midas

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