Saturday, January 21, 2012

Guest Author: Anne Zouroudi

It is my distinct honor to present as our guest blogger my colleague in Greek arms, the distinguished novelist Anne Zouroudi.  Anne brings a gifted lyrical voice to the mystery genre, and to say that her detective, Hermes Diaktoros aka The Fat Man, is a magical protagonist tells only part of the tale.
Anne was born in the north of England, and after a business career that included a stint on Wall Street, she moved to the Greek islands, where she married and lived for some years. Anne now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District but her attachment to Greece remains strong, and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing.  She is the author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, each based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins: “The Messenger of Athens” (shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award 2008 for Breakthrough Authors and longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize), “The Taint of Midas,” “The Doctor of Thessaly” and “The Lady of Sorrows,” shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Awards in 2010. Her most recent published novel is the sixth in the series, “The Whispers of Nemesis.” Book seven, “The Bull of Mithros,” will be published by Bloomsbury in June 2012.  Anne’s website and blog are at
Welcome, my friend.

It’s not everyone who’d relish an enforced stint in the Greek army. Certainly I wouldn’t—the very idea of bunk beds and reveille, parade grounds and bossy, unsmiling men barking orders (orders? I don’t take orders) makes me shudder, and the indignities of communal showers and latrines would have me AWOL within hours. 
But my son, it seems, is quite looking forward to it. Which is just as well, since at the end of this month, he’ll have his head shaved, be kitted out with khakis and heavy boots, and enter the Basic Training programme for National Service recruits at the barracks in Nafplio, a couple of hours drive from Athens on the Argolic Gulf.
He’s proud to be joining a fighting force with over 4000 years of history—a once-legendary army commanded by Alexander the Great and Achilles. Sadly, at this low-point in Greece’s fortunes, the army is feeling its share of the pain. With the military budget slashed, basic training has been cut from two months to two weeks; there are rumours there’s no ammunition for recruits’ firearms training, and few weapons for them to fire if the ammo were there.  
A few months ago, I was invited to Athens by my Greek publisher. It was a memorable trip, not least of all because I was interviewed live, in Greek, on national television (Yes, it was terrifying. My Greek’s not bad, but it’s not up to that standard, not even close. But the gods were feeling kind, and somehow I got away with it). A book-signing was scheduled in one of the city’s huge bookstores, a splendid five-storey palace of reading overlooking Syntagma Square. The event went well, questions were asked and answered. We said our goodbyes, and my publisher led me out onto the square.
Revolution was brewing there. Tens of thousands of people were gathering to protest the latest Draconian measures the government was proposing (Draco was himself an Athenian, in around 600BC; his punishment for debtors was slavery). Athenian Greeks are highly political, and will readily strike, demonstrate or protest to make their point. But this was different. The atmosphere was calm, but touched with danger; these were people right at the end of their ropes, and had little to lose.
The Athenians I met on that occasion were close to despair. Knowing they were Europe’s whipping boys, each felt the disgrace personally; humiliated by the screw-ups of their leaders, they felt shame in their failure to thrive in what had seemed the Brave New World of the Euro. Like an army defeated, they were on their knees, and it was tragic to see them brought so low.
But Greece has been down before, and she’ll pick herself up. She’ll pick herself up, because at the heart of every Greek is a Zorba-like outlook on life which makes them flourish.
I recall a journey by taxi, on the island of Kefalonia—a beautiful island with glorious beaches. The taxi-driver was a genial soul called Manos; he offered his congratulations that we had mastered some of his language, and took our understanding as his cue to talk at length about his life.
“Look,” he said. “If the taxi business goes well, or if it goes badly, what do I care? I have a piece of land with a few olive trees, and every year I make my oil. I have my garden and my vegetables, I have a few chickens and I grow a few grapes to make a glass of wine. I have my beautiful wife, and my beautiful children, and we’re all healthy. What more does a man need?”
A wise man, indeed, and fairly typical, in my experience, of an attitude bred in that land of milk and honey. Greeks out in the islands will, I feel, weather Greece’s current economic storm much better than city dwellers, because they have the resources for subsistence close at hand. In the islands, you can still gather snails after the rain, and make a stew; you can pick wild greens, catch a fish, keep a few chickens or rabbits in the backyard, and many people do so. In many ways, the remoter islands especially have changed very little since Homer was a boy, and since the gods were bestowing gifts and wreaking havoc.
But what of those gods now, in Greece’s hour of need? Have they deserted the mountains and meadows, abandoned the rivers and the seas?
Let me end with a quote from the Messenger of Athens, where old Nikos is trying to persuade his niece out of an affair.
“There are no gods,” said Irini.
“Why so certain? Look.” Nikos gestured towards the hillsides, and at the open sea. “This is their terrain. They’re not far away. Some say when the people stopped believing in them, they ceased to exist. But this view’s still what it was when Jason built the Argo and the Minotaur was eating virgins in the labyrinth. Two thousand years, and nothing’s changed; and don’t think they’ve gone! Orthodoxy is just a facade, a veneer. If you look around, really look” – he pointed to the centre of his forehead – “using this eye, then you start to see. They’re here, and they’re watching.”
And taking a great interest in Greece’s fortunes, have no doubt... 
Efharisto para poli, Anne.


  1. That's a lovely passage from The Messenger of Athens. And thanks for introducing us to Anne Zaroudi. I just happen to have The Taint of Midas on my TBR pile and look forward to reading it.

    Greece is a country I think about every day as I read the NY Times articles about what's happening there, and I worry about the jobless, homeless, youth, seniors, poor families, etc. And it doesn't look like the situation will improve.

    This post reminds me I must read more about Greece. I was brought up on a steady diet of Greek myths and folklore. My father would tell us about Jason and the Argo and the Minotaur and so much more, as our bedtime stories.

    And I want to start your series, too, Jeff. Do I need to start at the beginning? And, of course, I love political themes, so please advise.

  2. Thank you for a lovely, optimistic post. I think we are all following what is happening in Greece, not only for its people, but also because it affects all of us.

  3. A very nice post which makes me ache for Greece even more. If I think about the heritage, and the way of life as you describe, I get angry at those people who squandered so much in the name of greed. Your cab driver has the right idea, but not everyone can do that. And now to check on your books :)

  4. It was my pleasure to introduce you to Anne, Kathy. Even more so if it inspires you to read more about your roots. Make that civilization's roots!

    As for where to start with my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels, you can begin with any in the series and each involves distinctly different political themes. Chronologically, the first is "Murder in Mykonos" (a #1 best seller in Greece) which draws upon the intense, self-protective politics of a tourist-driven island as the backdrop for the story. The second in the series, "Assassins of Athens," explores the relationship between Greeks and their government, and the third, "Prey on Patmos" does the same for the relationship between the Greeks and their church. But again, each can be read independent of the other.

  5. Hi guys, Thanks for your comments. It's remarkable how many of us feel a deep connection with Greece - somehow she touches something within us, and it's heartbreaking to see her brought so low. And as Lil points out, sadly not everyone has my taxi-driver's option of near self-sufficiency - the many homeless on the streets of Athens are witness to that. But I am a great believer in the power of positive thought, so - impractical and as small a thing as it may seem - please keep thinking of the beleaguered Greeks, and will them a route out of their troubles.

  6. Have enjoyed the Hermes series to date. Glad to know another is in the works.

    1. On developments in Greece, I read an article at Google News a few weeks ago that pregnant women (in labor, no less) were being turned away from hospitals if they had no insurance. Does anyone know if this is still the case?

      Also, the New York Times had an article about a young mother who'd been laid off and her unemployment insurance had run out. One of her two young children has diabetes and needs insulin. The clinic where they were going for care informed them that there was no more subsidized insulin. And the Times said that much previously subsidized medicine was no longer available for poor people -- a demographic that is growing fast.

      And then I read that more austerity is being demanded by the Troika, EU, IMF and ECB.

  7. Wow, Kathy, those are some tough questions to throw out to a guest author:). I'm sure Anne can answer them, but here's my take on them.

    Greece's National Health System generally provides free or at least subsidized health coverage for those covered under Greece's "social security." The story you're talking about came to light in early December regarding several incidents in November of pregnant women reportedly denied care unless they first prepaid specified charges based on their type of birth delivery. They were told to pay first and later obtain reimbursement from the government. As a result of the heat those stories generated the Government stated that prepayment would no longer be required in such circumstances.

    But that far from resolved the much larger problem.

    If you lose your job you're no longer likely able to afford private medical care and must turn to the public hospitals. And once you're out of work for more than a year, you generally lose your health care benefits and must now pay for once subsidized public hospital care. But the charges for those unsubsidized services have skyrocketed as part of an effort to offset the costs of caring for all the new patients in public hospitals--and the loss of payments into the social security system by reason of the ever increasing number of unemployed.

    It's a ruthless cycle, and with no medical insurance and no money to pay for care, I understand more and more Greeks are seeking medical care from NGOs such as "Doctors Without Borders."

    As for "The Times" story of an institution running out of subsidized insulin, that seems entirely possible. Funds are needed to purchase supplies and in a financial crisis where there is no money to pay vendors, they will not ship. The Ministry of Health, which is responsible for the matters you raise, ranks among the most heavily criticized ministries on the subject of its fiscal behavior.

    On the question of more austerity demands by the Troika, I'm not sure it's more or just insistence on the implementation of previously agreed upon but yet to be implemented measures.

    But whatever the answers, one thing is for sure: things are very dicey for the Greek people.