ASHES

Written by Sergios Gakas

Review written by Angela Hatherell


ASHES
Maclehose Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: 21st July 2011
Hdbk

On the front cover this book describes itself as "Greek Noir". And how! It is set in Athens during the run-up to the 2004 Olympics, in an atmosphere of drugs, violence  and police corruption, at times positively slanderous about the Greek Government, even casting aspersions on the Prime Minister, although not going so far as to name him.

 

The opening chapters need great concentration, as the two main characters, Colonel Halkidis the policeman and Simeon Piertzovanis, are introduced in a series of interlocking paragraphs in which it is not immediately clear who is thinking, who is speaking: is this the past or the present?

 

To start with we have the thoughts of Sonia Varika, an alcoholic actress living in a run-down house with a Somali woman and daughter, and an elderly actor, as she looks out over her garden and wonders vaguely about strange lights. These are in fact flames which engulf the whole house, causing the death of the three other residents and the horrific burning of Sonia. She is taken to hospital in a coma. Her thoughts are always in italics, which is helpful.

        

Halkidis, seeing the fire reported on television, rushes to the scene of the crime. Simeon owns the house and also rushes there. It becomes clear that these two men have had close connections to Sonia. When, however, Halkidis tries to investigate the circumstances of the crime he is told by his superior to leave it alone. He is a very troubled man, heavily relying on drugs which can easily get hold of, and smokes and drinks to excess at times. He gets the impression that something is being covered up by the Authorities, which makes him all the more determined.

       

From here on the story really gets going as Halkidis and Simeon uncover more shady dealings and eventually discover the reason for the cover-up. Halkidis agrees to go along with his superiors, and is sent away to Rome "on leave". But does he go? You must read this to find out the obligatory shock ending.

        

I was a bit discouraged on first reading, so went back to the beginning. Once the story took off I just read and read, and came to three hours later, having read through my 4.30 tea time. You mayfind the Greek names difficult - I did. Do pay attention to the dates and times at the head of each section at the beginning of the book, get the characters sorted out and enjoy... 

 

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