Zouroudi, Anne - 'The Whispers of Nemesis'
Papa Tomas lifted the lid of the box. On a lining of white cotton, the many unwashed bones from Santos's grave were caked in earth, but the covering was too light to hide their form. The skull was elongated, and wide at the jaws; the teeth remained, with a set of almost human molars in the rear jaw, but at the front - at the snout - a dozen more protruded oddly, and two - curling upwards - were obviously tusks.
It is winter in the Greek mountain village of Vrisi. Villagers and family are gathered in the cemetery for the ritual exhumation of the bones of Santos Volakis the poet. As they reach the bones themselves, the poet's daughter Leda runs from the cemetery to the village square where her father's statue stands and on up the hill to the family home.
Four years earlier Santos Volakis had been giving a recital of his poems at the University. Leda accompanied him with a masked dance and when the recital ended she left for home and Santos moved on to the book signing. On this occasion it was the faculty secretary who shyly offered to drive him back to his hotel. This was the pattern of the poet's life; travelling from his home and work in Vrisi to poetry readings and events around the country. Then one day the police arrived at the Volakis house in order to break the news to his sister and daughter that the poet was dead, an accidental death caused by choking on an olive. The poet was laid to rest in the village cemetery with a ceremony attended by villagers, his family, his agent, his publisher and the press. But when the will was read, it was found that the poet had included a clause that postponed the distribution of his estate until "his bones finally see daylight", a phrase which is taken to mean the ritual exhumation of his bones in four years time. When that time comes what is found in the grave shakes the village to its core - Volakis' bones appear transformed into something no longer human. The detective Hermes Diaktoros, sometimes known as the Fat Man, has come to Vrisi to visit an old acquaintance. He has brought a jar of medlar jam with him for the old acquaintance always loved medlars. And when fresh scandal erupts with the melting roadside snow revealing a dead body and that body is eventually identified - it is time for the Fat Man to investigate.
THE WHISPERS OF NEMESIS is Anne Zouroudi's fifth crime novel set in Greece and featuring her corpulent detective in tennis shoes, Hermes Diaktoros. It's a story that echoes Zouroudi's own preference for crime fiction "more cerebral than bloody" and Zouroudi's intellectual concerns are backed by her concept of the Hermes Diaktoros series as consisting of seven novels based on the Seven Deadly Sins. But the identity of a killer is not the only mystery running through THE WHISPERS OF NEMESIS. To me there is the mystery that surrounds Hermes himself. Who or "what" is Hermes Diaktoros? Who does he really work for? How does he know what he knows? (Not to mention which of the Seven Deadly Sins is at the core of this novel.) By the end of the book you may know "whodunit" but you cannot be sure that you know Hermes. Some aspects of the book's "crime mystery" plotting left me confused, even though I had a sense of what may be coming. And I found that I wanted a more rounded or grounded view of some of the central characters. However Zouroudi, in many ways, writes beautifully and conjures up a strong awareness of the Greek landscape, people and culture. Alongside delicious descriptions of food the likes of which stands up to almost anything that the Inspectors Montalbano and Brunetti may consume, THE WHISPERS OF NEMESIS itself has a unique flavour; an evocative sense of place coupled with timelessness that enhances Zouroudi's marriage of myth and detection. For fans of the Agatha Christie model of mystery - and of Greece - this will be a happy read.
Read another review of THE WHISPERS OF NEMESIS.
Lynn Harvey, England