Anne Zouroudi’s The Mysteries of the Greek Detective are based around the seven deadly sins and with The Bull of Mithros we arrive at sloth. Within the realms of crime fiction Zouroudi is pushing barriers, for her Greek Detective, Hermes Diaktoros has something other-worldly about him; and neither do we know to which authority he is accountable. But Hermes does not engender fear for he is an amiable chap. He arrives and moves with ease among locals, is curious and chatty. Those he encounters overlook the direct and incisive nature of his questions due to his apparently innocent charm.
In summer, tourists flock to Mithros intrigued by the fable of the missing and priceless artefact, the Bull of Mithros. At the same time, Hermes is forced to pull in at Mithros as his boat requires urgent repairs. His arrival coincides with that of a stranger in the most inconvenient of circumstances. The stranger has been thrown overboard by his shipmates and has no money or papers to prove his identity. Detained by the army and proving to be a difficult guest, he is desperate to get away from the island as soon as possible. But during his stay some people start to question whether they have seen him before.
In addition to the loss of the fabled Bull (and its copy), Mithros harbours another aged mystery. Many years before, the island’s wealthy philanthropist, Vassilis was the victim of a violent robbery leaving one man dead. The perpetrators escaped and remained unpunished, but the incident was not forgotten, and not only by the victim. Where the past now meets the present, Hermes is the man – and the detective – to unravel the complex strands of a criminal tapestry woven on sloth and to finally bring justice to the island.
Zouroudi’s tale is tenderly told but it also carries depth. The opening scenes cast an immediate sense of foreboding in relation to a child’s loss of innocence and an appreciation of how easily children can be manipulated. With Hermes, we are able to learn of the island’s secrets as he carries the wisdom and wherewithal to stay one step ahead of us. And we are never in thrall to his revelations as he is the most generous and agreeable of detectives.
Greece may be experiencing the direst of economic circumstances right now but Zouroudi writes of the country with great love and humour. Her scenes involving the young army conscripts feel very real and bring a smile to the face.
Like Andrew Taylor, Zouroudi writes a great, atmospheric story focused on morality, and delivers it in finely honed prose. With impeccably constructed sentences and a vocabulary that reminds us just how rich the English language can be, Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove should put this author’s novels on the curriculum.
The Bull of Mithros is a beautifully written and gentle story, deceptively undercut with an exposé and probing of the darker sides of human nature.
This review first appeared in the print edition of the Catholic Herald.