The stream of terrific books from Bloomsbury doesn't seem in any danger of drying up and this one floated my way and had me incommunicado for most of last weekend while I became totally immersed in this, the first I gather, of The Mysteries of the Greek Detective.
"When the battered body of a young woman is discovered on a remote Greek island, the local police are quick to dismiss her death as an accident. Then a stranger arrives, uninvited from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further..."
The stranger "a fat man" arrives early one morning on the island of Thiminos and visits the police station only to find that the body has already been buried and the case dismissed by the obviously corrupt and venal Chief of Police who challenges his authority to investigate the death of Irini Asimakopoulos. Asked who he is the Fat Man replies "My name is Hermes Diaktoros. I expect you're surprised at my name: Hermes Messenger. My father's idea of humour. He was a classical scholar"
Ignoring all opposition the Fat Man books in at the local hotel and starts asking questions with varying reactions of hostility and fear. The general consensus is that Irina was an unfaithful wife who had committed suicide and his interference is resented. One by one he talks to those who knew her: her husband Andreas, her uncle Nickos, the man she became infatuated with and who rejected her, Theo and a picture begins to emerge of a bored, depressed woman desperate to escape from the bleak island:
"from the sea the island showed exactly what it was; rock, one huge rock, so undercut by the salt water of the southern Aegean it seemed to float free.....the cliff faces were sheer, where the slopes were gentler, they were all thin dirt and stone. There was little else: a few black pines rooted into the mountainsides...thorny run down shrubs between the boulders"
As layers of deception, jealousy and spite are uncovered, the Fat Man punishes the transgressors in his own way, dispensing an eye for an eye brand of justice. The police chief, who pressurises local wives to sleep with him in order to save their families and/or husbands from prison for some slight misdemeanour, ends up on a ferry with one of the cuckolded husbands who exacts a swift revenge on him; a vicious attack on Irina by a member of the community finds a scorpion reposing in her handbag; the cowardly lover who deserted her is tarred and feathered and dragged through the town for all to see. On the other hand, those who were kind and those islanders who have suffered are rewarded. One abandoned wife who, in order to hide her shame, had to pretend to be a widow learns that her husband is finally dead and she is now free to do as she chooses. Nikos, Irina's uncle who loved her and looked out for her, and who is dying painfully on his own, is taken by the Fat Man to his long estranged sister so he is not alone when the end comes. Once he is satisfied that the death of Irina has been avenged the Fat Man leaves:
"Approaching the headland at the bay's end, the yacht began a turn to starboard. The clouds were lifting in the blustery wind and between their cracks a few rays of weak sunshine fell in spotlights on the Aphrodite's decks. The fat man moved up to the prow and stood, legs braced, hands at his back, like a commander of the fleet judging the sea. As Lukas watched, the clouds moved back together, the spotlights were extinguished, Aprhorodite slipped round the headland and she, and the fat man, were lost from view"
So who is the Fat Man? Well, just remember his name ' Hermes Messenger' and the fact that a he was sent by 'a higher authority in Athens' and his method of punishing transgressors and rewarding virtue.
Almost as if the Gods on Olympus had decreed it so.....
Brilliant and I am already looking forward to the next one.