Thursday, May 10, 2012

2,494: The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi

Et in Arcadia ego may have reflected Charles Ryder’s joy at escaping from his dull, middle-class background into the aristocratic Elysium of Sebastian Flyte’s Oxford but, in Anne Zouroudi’s second Greek Detective novel, Arcadia is, at best, a faded paradise.

Hermes Diaktoros, the afore-mentioned Greek Detective, is en route to his vineyard when he stumbles across a corpse, which is identifies as his old friend, Gabrilis, by means of an old Post Office cap that bears as it insignia the winged Hermes.  It soon becomes clear that Gabrilis, a beekeeper, has been conned into signing away his land adjoining the ancient temple of Apollo, to an unscrupulous local property developer and restaurant owner.

Despite being the initial prime suspect of the local police sergeant, the incorruptible Gazis, Hermes turns the investigation around and, prodding away at the hypocrisy and greed of the locals, gradually reveals Gabrilis’ murderer as well as bringing happiness to the wronged and serving up just desserts to various wrongdoers.

It is likely that a love of traditional detective fiction might find The Taint of Midas a bit disappointing, or, even, weak.  If I’m being perfectly honest, there is little actual detection going on here.  The vague supernatural tones of The Messenger of Athens reappear even more strongly here.  Diaktoros appears to be almost omniscient and there is little suspense to be found in contemplating whether or not he will identify the culprit.

But that’s, frankly, missing the point.  Although Hermes is named for the winged messenger of Greek mythology (and, inappropriately for his character, the patron god of thieves), there is more than a whiff of Nemesis, the Greek spirit of revenge (especially against the arrogant), about Hermes.  And, I think that’s where the joy of Zouroudi’s novels lies.  They aren’t true detective stories, they are morality tales in which, regardless of the laws of the land, the bad guys get punished and the suffering often get a piece of good fortune.  Hermes’ actions pander not to our brains but to our hearts because no matter what we say (and, as a lawyer, I am especially prone to pontificating about the sanctity of the law), deep down we want to see justice conform to our own notions of morality.  This is exactly what Hermes gives us.

Of course, this leaves open the chance that the resultant book will be sententious and a bit clunky but, fortunately, Ms Zouroudi has a wonderful touch when it comes to depicting the dark underbelly of the Greek summer holiday spot.  The Taint of Midas positively drips with atmosphere and a sense of place. In addition, Hermes is an engaging kind of chap and the story moves along at a gentle pace that makes it a peaceful, relaxing read.  On the downside, Hermes' habitual whitening of his tennis shoes is thoroughly irritating and I did have a nagging thought that, for someone who owns a vineyard in the immediate vicinity of the scene of the crime, he did seem to be surprisingly ignorant of the place and its inhabitants.

Still, these are minor criticisms and, overall, I’m a fan of the Greek Detective novels.  They appeal to me when I am in the mood for something relaxing, comforting and undemanding.  When I read one, I can feel the Mediterranean sun on my face, I can smell the wild herbs of the Greek countryside and the ozone tang of the sea and, as I sit on the sardine-packed Northern line on the way to work, Anne Zouroudi and Hermes Diaktoros take me away to a different world.  And that’s good enough for me.


Laura Mint said...

Seems to be very interesting!
If you want drop by at The Cat's Edge :)

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