Anne Zouroudi's The Messenger of Athens is the first of her series of books featuring the Greek detective, Hermes Diaktoros, and it's clear from the off that Hermes is no ordinary investigator.
For a fat man - that's how he's referred to throughout - he's surprisingly fleet of foot, though it's tennis shoes he favours rather than wingèd sandals, and although he's been sent from Athens to look into the death of a young woman on the island of Thiminos, he's not a policeman but works, as he puts it, "for a higher authority". If I tell you also that he is something of an avenging angel, a man who sees deep into the hearts of others, who has a knack for knowing what ails a person and what might cure their ills, then you'll perhaps appreciate that this 'messenger', this 'intermediary' is not as other men; that said, it's an all too real world in which he finds himself when he steps off the ferry with his capacious holdall on a chilly Spring day.
Hermes is such an original character and one whose particular gifts will afford his creator great possibilities, but in case you think this book is some kind of myth or fable, let me correct that impression. It's a gritty tale of passion and lust, of jealousy, vengeance and corruption, and of the harsh treatment of women; it's like the picture postcard image of a Greek island but taken in the off-season, with the dilapidation and decay - both physical and moral - which would normally be kept strictly 'out of shot', very much in the frame. So the book works both as morality tale and detective story and makes compelling reading.
As to the plot, Irini Asimakopoulos has been found dead on an island hillside, and while the local police are content to sign off her death as suicide, Hermes takes a different view. In his questioning of the locals, of the victim's husband and others who were close to her - and his methods here are certainly unorthodox - he builds a picture of betrayal and brutality in a society where love and marriage seem rarely to go together. Behind the white-washed façades of the simple village houses, secrets are kept, shame and dishonour are hidden, and piety cohabits with cruelty. But Hermes is in Thiminos to see justice done and this deus ex machina is nothing if not effective, so that by the time he leaves the island many wrongs have been righted in stylish fashion, and the reader will close the book with a sigh of satisfaction.