Friday, February 5, 2010

Murder à la grecque

Saturday is the day that we reserve for guest authors. Today it's the turn of the estimable Jeffrey Siger.

Jeff was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He practiced law at a major Wall Street law firm before establishing his own New York City law firm and continuing as one of its name partners until giving it all up to write full-time among the people, life, and politics of his beloved Mykonos, his adopted home of twenty-five years.  When he’s not in Greece, his other home is a farm outside New York City.  Murder in Mykonos (Poisoned Pen Press 2009), the first in his Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series, was the #1 best selling English-language novel in Greece, and the Greek version of his just published second novel in the series, Assassins of Athens (Poisoned Pen Press, 2010), instantly became one of Greece’s top ten best sellers.

Here's Jeff in his own words and pictures:

I live within the cradle of European civilization, less than a mile from the birthplace of the god of light, amidst a circle of islands that once hosted the crossroads of trade for the ancient world.  But it’s eons since the birth of Apollo, two and a half millennia beyond its glory days of commerce, and 2000 years since the island heart of this Cycladic chain was obliterated from the face of the earth and its 20,000 residents slaughtered or sold into slavery in retribution for backing the wrong protector. 

Over the ensuing centuries a succession of plunderers, foreign and domestic, made off with its treasures and the small, razed island came to serve as little more than a source of building materials and hunting grounds for surrounding islanders.  In 1872 things began to change. The French School of Archeology started excavations and today it represents the most varied collection of ruins in all of Greece, conveying to visitors a sense of eternal spirituality that no doubt was what made it second only to Delphi in sacred importance to the ancients.

But that’s Delos.  I don’t live there.  No one does.  No one is allowed to, or for that matter to be born or die there.  The Athenians decided in 425 BC to purify Apollo’s birthplace, and removed all graves to the nearby island of Rhenia.  I don’t live there either, only a handful do, but the spear fishing off its shores is about as good as it gets in that part of the world.
My home is on another neighbor island, and though larger than Delos (one and a half times the size of Manhattan) it barely received much notice in Delos’ heyday.  Yes, it was known for agriculture and highly desirable clay deposits used to create that era’s equivalents of tuna fish cans, pickle jars, and cereal boxes, but it definitely was not the main show.  Not even an opening act. 
It was an island of granite, forced to endure centuries of foreign occupiers, one after another from the Middle Ages through the middle of the 20th Century.  Those years generated a lot of history, filled with daring pirates, dashing heroes (male and female), bittersweet realities, and many tales, but there’s no time to tell those stories now. 

Besides, times have changed, the focus of visitors today is on the present and I doubt a time traveler from just fifty—certainly seventy—years ago would recognize my island home today.  It is a new sort of international cross roads, one of dazzling beaches, mega-yachts, private jets, and 24/7 lifestyles.  It is Europe’s most popular tourist island, the sexy Aegean island of Mykonos.

Assuming you’ve never experienced my island’s incredible light, the unmatched beauty of its sea, and omnipresent energy that would do the gods of Delos proud, the thought of my choosing to live in such a “tourist paradise”­ might lead you to question my sanity or at least my taste.  Believe me, there are a lifetime of reasons for asking that question, but my decision to make Mykonos my home is not one of them; and for a very simple reason: Mykonos is not Disneyland, it is a real place filled with remarkable people. 
Mykonians are a warm and hospitable breed, raising families in keeping with deeply held traditions, and yet they are among the most accepting people on earth.  I’m continually amazed at how tourists intrude with cameras upon the most personal of public events, such as a funeral, and not one local objects.  I once thought that was because Mykonians considered tourist season some sort of annual tsunami that rushed in upon their island for three months leaving them no choice but acceptance until it receded in September.  But I’ve come to think differently.  Mykonians overlook behavior from visitors that they would never tolerate from one of their own because they know no offense or ill will is intended.  They accept that behavior for what it is: foreign.
There is an additional reason I live there.  I write mystery thrillers that just happen to explore serious societal issues confronting modern Greece while touching upon the country’s ancient roots.  During tourist season, many visitors from the mainland and beyond willingly share their private thoughts and confidences in relaxed beachside chats or pre-dawn whispered conversations in a club or bar.  The world comes to party on Mykonos, and I sit with pen and (inconspicuous) pad in hand gathering in all the material they’re willing to share.  Yes, I’ve learned to surf the tsunami.  Fish it, too.  Hard work, but alas, we must suffer for our art.

You can, and we here at Murder is Everywhere hope you will, visit Jeff at his website:
He's a great guy, and a fine writer!


  1. Jeffrey

    I really enjoyed reading your post here on Murder Is Everywhere. My husband's parents were both born in Greece. His father on the island of Andros and his mother up in the mountains near Turkey. They came over to the states separately and met in New York.

    I've ordered your first book through Amazon for my husband to read. I'll read it too! Hope you can guest here on this blog again.

    Jacquie Gounaris

  2. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your life on Mykonis, and the story of Greece. Most of all, thank you for your wonderful mysteries. It's been my pleasure to share them with others.

    Lesa -

  3. MURDER IN MYKONOS is a 5-star reading experience. I expect the same interesting and likeable protagonists in ASSASSINS IN ATHENS. The first book gave wonderful insight into the long-held values of the people who live on the island.

    Jeff, the Mykonians are far too kind to the tourists who invade their most private moments and steal their dignity. That the foreigners aren't being deliberately offensive is no excuse. The behavior is crude, rude, and the result of too money allowing people to believe that the rules of simple courtesy don't apply to them. The rich and their offspring are definitely different.

  4. Glorious article and photos. Recommended reading for anyone who loves history and travel and for those who have yet to experience Greece. I look forward to reading your books.

    Pat Browning

  5. Jeff,

    Thanks for reminding me about this.

    As tribute, your pictures fit with what I read, which isn't always the case when I visit a location or see photos of a place I have only visited in a novel.

    I am ready to read #3.


  6. Thank you for such kind words. This was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed, and coming as it did in the midst of my book tour it gave me a welcome opportunity NOT to talk about myself:) The hosts of this site are an extraordinary group and they make this place as unique as those in which they chose to live around the non-http world. It was my honor to participate.

    On the subject of rude conduct, I think Mykonians view such behavior not so much as insults directed at them, as they do a sort of non-verbal billingsgate that falls back on the issuer, rather than upon the object. Whatever the explanation, I'm pleased to say that in my experience it is a very small number of visitors who could use a lesson in manners. Again, thank you all.

  7. What fantastic pictures! I am new to Jeff's work, but really looking forward to starting with the first...