Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Lost in Translation Story Told An Athens Insider


If you’re interested in good news about what’s going on in Greece, and specifically in its capital city, Athens Insider Magazine is for you.  Slick—in the finest sense—and always on top of the City’s latest cultural and lifestyle happenings, it’s the perfect counterpoint to the many harsh things Greece endures and of which so many write and report, including yours truly.  

A while back, the Publisher-Editor of Athens Insider asked if I’d be willing to contribute to their magazine. Of course, I agreed, and in keeping with its tone, the first article I submitted dealt with the lighter side of murder mystery research in a foreign land.  That article appears in in the current issue of the magazine, and I thought you might enjoy it. If you don’t, please complain to me and leave Athens Insider out of it. :)

Researching a new murder mystery can be fun.  Especially when it’s placed in Greece and you’re looking for the perfect spot to do the deed. Or find the corpse(s).   Deep blue seas, wispy white clouds, green-brown hills, blood-red blood.  Yes, finding the site is fun.   Mainly because it’s something you can do without confiding your purpose to a soul beyond your own. 

Saying, “Hi, can you suggest the perfect spot for a dismembering moment,” is not likely to get you the same sort of warm response as, “Your spanikopita are the best spinach pies I’ve ever tasted.”  [Note: On the off chance that it does, take a hint from Sweeney Todd and dine elsewhere.]

In that spirit, I’ve taken to fading in among the anonymous tourists driving and hiking about Greece until the moment I come across that spot my deep, dark mysterious mind always told me must be out there.  Then, voilà, let the mayhem begin.

Having said all that, some plot elements can take hold of your mind that by their nature necessitate a far more adventuresome sort of exploration.  Like when a little voice in your head says, “Hey, genius, why don’t you make the robbery of the millennium pivotal to your story.”

When will I ever learn that the most dangerous voices are the most flattering ones?   And of that lot, the worst by far are those blithering away inside your own head—even more so than that of an agent hot to represent you.

But the trouble with imagination is that once it takes hold the most difficult aspirations turn irresistible.  I’ve been told that Quixotic characteristic passes with maturity. 

To get to the point of all this, my fourth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, Target: Tinos, required a detailed understanding of security surrounding one of the least known treasures in the world—if you’re not Greek—in order to make the leap from reality to the impossible not that far.

To do that, I needed to speak to an insider, someone with intimate knowledge of the target.   And so, at the beginning of this week I set off on my quest with a friend (let’s call him Sancho) who knew such an insider (let’s call her Dulcinea).  My friend had read all of my books and knew I was working on a new murder mystery, but had no idea why I was interested in learning about the treasure.

“If Dulcinea wants to know the purpose of the meeting, tell her I’m an American writer working on a book about the hidden charms of Greece and could not possibly write such a book without including their priceless treasure.” 

I had my questions and my approach all prepared and worked out in advance. Sancho assured me that Dulcinea spoke perfect English because my Greek could not carry off the type of in-depth, subtle fishing expedition I had in mind.

“Perfect,” I once again learned, was an imperfect word.  Dulcinea’s English was as perfect for getting around an English language country as mine was for ordering a gyro in Greece.  Within thirty seconds Sancho was serving as interpreter.  I told him to translate my questions and her answers exactly as they were spoken.  He assured me he would.

I began with carefully phrased general questions of the type intended to make everyone comfortable.  They would run on for several sentences, Sancho would nod and say four words to Dulcinea who’d give him a two-word reply, followed a several-line editorialized answer from Sancho to me. 

I was getting nowhere fast.

After ten minutes or so, Dulcinea suggested we leave her office to see the treasure that was the purpose of our visit.  Let’s make the image simple: think breathtaking, spiritual, priceless and very portable.

As we stood in front of the treasure, I tried a few more subtle questions, all with the same result.  So I switched to a different tack.

Me:  “Where do you keep the treasure when it’s not on display?”

Sancho to Dulcinea to Sancho to Me:  “In a safe over there.” She pointed to a two-meter tall, cloth-covered rectangle.

I walked to the cloth, pressed my hand against it, felt the steel, moved my fingers to the hinges and then the handle.  “Is it bolted to the floor?”

S to D to S to Me:  “Yes.”

I asked if I could take few photographs and Dulcinea said, “Yes,” a rare honor according to Sancho.  I nodded and smiled to Dulcinea then began photographing the skylights, windows, doors, and floor.

Dulcinea said something to Sancho, “She wants to know what you’re doing.   The treasure is over there.”

I said, “Sorry,” and quickly took a few of the treasure.

Sancho said, “Are you done yet?”

“There must be more security for the treasure than just that safe.  Ask her.”  Sancho hesitated.  “Just ask,” I said.

This time it was Dulcinea who gave the lengthy answer and Sancho four words back to me.  “A lot, plus guards.”

“What time do the guards change shifts?”

Sancho said to me in English, “Are you out of your mind.  Don’t you know what she’s thinking?”

“Just ask her.”

He did. Dulcinea’s answer was quick and guarded.  “It varies.”

Sancho and Dulcinea looked like two bank tellers waiting for the masked man to hand them the note.

I smiled, “Can they be bribed?”

This time it was Sancho who went on for a full minute.  Dulcinea smiled and held out her hand to me.  She was thanking me for my lavish praise of her kind assistance and wishing me the best of luck with my new cookbook.

I’m still laughing.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events

Friday, May 18 @ 12:30 PM 
Bristol, UK
Moderating Panel titled, “Power, Corruption and Greed—Just Another Day at the Office.”

Saturday, May 19 @ 2:50 PM
Bristol, UK
Participating in Panel moderated by our Michael Sears titled, “Getting Personal—Private Lives of Characters”


  1. Oh dear! I can imagine crime writers must often seem very suspicious citizens indeed to ordinary law-abiding people.

    1. On the other hand, it’s a career that gives us a grand excuse for why we frequent “questionable”’places—both real and virtual—whenever certain acronymal government agencies come a calling.

  2. LOL, Jeff. Whenever I send questionable questions via email, I always take care to include the phrase 'for the purposes of the plot of my next novel...' Otherwise I'm concerned that those three-letter agencies you mention will come knocking on my door. That's quite apart from my research book collection!

    1. I just indicate I’m verifying information put out there by international leaders regarding the proclaimed talents of their citizens.

  3. Now that all the information comes out about Facebook and Google and all they know about our online behaviors, I am sure we will all show on several suspect lists: I know for sure it will be me then they look for people using search terms like how soon after death does rigor mortis set in? Or how do Kikuyu hunters make the deadly poison for their spears? I could go on, but I think Big Brothers are watching.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks, Jackie. And the best part is it’s true. :).