First published in 1985 recently republished in 2017.

Part of the What We Are Reading Now collection of Book Reviews by friends of Essex Book Festival

A Book Review by Cllr Susan Ager

The Messenger of Athens is the first in Anne Zouroudi’s unique series of award-winning mysteries. This is where mythology meets murder, in the timeless landscapes of almost-contemporary Greece. (almost contemporary because even though set in 1980’s, the villages of this small island are still living in the past with regard to culture.)

I agree with Susan Hill who said of Anne Zouroudi’s tales of the Greek Detective that they are: ‘Gripping and tense, with an atmosphere which holds you in thrall’ says Susan Hill.

(Susan Hill CBE, born 5 February 1942 is an English author of fiction and non-fiction works. Her novels include ‘The Woman in Black’, ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ and ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ for which she received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1971.)

I chose this book to read from my daily email, listing Kindle special offers. It sounded interesting but, as I always do, I ordered a sample first before committing myself to spend 99p on a book that I might not want to read. I was hooked almost from the first sentence and soon paid my money for the full edition. I wasn’t disappointed, it was a fascinating read.

The story is set on the idyllic, but remote, Greek Island of Thiminos which seems almost untouched by the modern world. When the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the corrupt local police are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

I was fascinated by the mysterious and enigmatic Greek detective, Hermes Diaktoros. His character was portrayed as half Poirot and half deus ex machina’ God of the Machine. As the story says; a well-dressed stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further.

His methods are unorthodox, and he brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies. Who has sent him, on whose authority is he acting, and how does he know of dramas played out decades ago?

This is a story of love and hate, of violence and the old ways of treating women as mere chattels, owned by the men they are forced to marry. Men who have no intention of being faithful and where domestic abuse is just one of those things most women have to put up with.

Yet within relationships there is love, but there is lust and jealousy as well. Any married woman caught having an affair is beaten up and divorced, if a married man is caught with another woman he may bring shame upon his family, but would not be hurt.

The police force on this tiny island has just had a new Chief of Police, but is he who he says he is? He is certainly corrupt, taking bribes as is expected from one in his position. But was the money paid to hush up this death a step too far? He is a womaniser, using his power and influence to force woman to have sex with him to save their husbands from imprisonment.

What would seem on the face of it as a simple story, it has many powerful characters in it, that it becomes a ‘hard to put down’ read. It paints an extremely clear picture of what life was really like on an island so small. Poverty influences many life choices, jealousy inflames passions and for the man unravelling this death, an interesting insight into past history of many of the families.

He is from Athens but who is he? He is clever, compassionate and is determined to find the truth. When he does find the truth what does he do? Well, you will just have to read the book to find out.

Read other book reviews in the What We Are Reading Now collection.