July 6, 2008

The Messenger of Athens By Anne Zouroudi Bloomsbury Pounds 7.99



When the battered body of a young woman is discovered on a remote Greek island the local police seem in far too much of a hurry to get the body buried and catalogued as a case of accidental death. Anne Zourodi's hero, Hermes Diaktoros, generally referred to as "the fat man", arrives on the island to investigate the crime apparently uninvited, and uncovers a sordid mess of lies and secrets: the death is anything but accidental.

In places the story is highly promising. Hermes's methods are unorthodox. He seems to know much more than he should about the islanders' history. It's even unclear whose authority he is acting on. He is, in fact, the book's biggest mystery.

Once upon a time crime stories had something to do with dreams - often very bad ones, and Zouroudi seems aware of this. In the 1920s Fantmas novels a "battered" body would be likely to be served up with chips; in any of Chandler's stories the plot rests on poetry. Very little is off-limits to a reader's imagination. This novel tries and often succeeds in working a similar kind of spell.

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