Blood & Gold
by Leo Kanaris
Those of us who are both Graecophiles and lovers of good thrillers have been a little short of material since Paul Johnston called time on his Anglo-Greek private eye Alex Mavros and the Inspector Haritos policiers of Petros Markaris ceased to enjoy English translations. Jeffrey Siger’s Inspector Kaldis books are formulaically sub-Donna Leon, while Anna Zouroudi’s magic-realist ‘Greek detective’ Hermes Diaktoros is a different beast, really, so neither of those fit the bill. Now, however, Anglo-Greek Leo Kanaris (the nom de plume of Alex Martin), who writes in Engish but lives in Greece, has filled the void
Cops rather than private eyes are the norm these days, at least in Europe, but Kanaris has reverted to the Chandleresque tradition. George Zafiris is no ex-cop or disgraced DA, though – he’s a former economist at Greece’s Central Bank! It’s an unlikely change of profession, but one that allows Kanaris to create a crime-busting hero without the gung-ho characteristics of some of his literary counterparts.
He’s a married man, too – though not necessarily entirely happily so since his wife’s year-long fling with a shipping magnate (detailed in the first of the Zafiris books, Codename Xenophon). At least that gives him an excuse to be world-weary, as if the state of Greek society was not enough.
George (and no doubt Kanaris, too) is disgusted by the corruption of his country’s government and institutions, as much the new kids on the block of Syriza as the old guard of PASOK and New Democracy. Fortunately, unlike former colleague Hector, who met a foolish end in Codename Xenophon, he does not yearn for the return of a military dictatorship, just a new consciousness among his countrymen and women and an end to their stupidity and profligacy.
As George pursues the killers of an idealistic island Mayor – assisted by Hector’s brother, Haris – Kanaris paints a dark and despairing portrait of modern Greece, as far removed from the experiences of sun-seeking tourists as were, in their different way, the films of Theo Angelopoulos. A certain kind of justice is done, and George finds allies in Haris and the cautious police colonel Sotiriou, but Blood &?Gold seems to offer little hope for a damaged, destitute, confused and chaotic country, especially as Codename Xenophon’s political villain has been absorbed into the Syriza government.
Perhaps, however, he will get his come-uppance in Kanaris’s future Zafiris books. I will certainly be reading on to find out, because despite their downbeat tone, this series is an intelligent, engrossing treat.