The main reason I chose this book was that I was in the mood for something a bit light and the series has, more than once, been compared to Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, several of which I have enjoyed. I should have known that these comparisons would be completely bogus.
The Messenger of Athens did have the same approach as an Alexander McCall Smith tale in that it told its story as a by-product of an examination of the minutiae of every day life in an exotic location. But there the similarities end as this was a tome of unending loneliness, depression and entrenched misogyny with half a dozen episodes of crude, violent sex and one gruesome description of a goat slaughter to round out the misery. Essentially it is the story of the inhabitants of what I think (indeed fervently hope) is a small fictional Greek island called Thiminos. These people are the sorriest bunch of selfish, small-minded, insular, bigots you could ever wish not to meet.
Among the island’s population lived Irini Asimakopoulos whose body was found at the bottom of a cliff and whose death was attributed to suicide. However Hermes Diaktoros, referred to throughout the book as The Fat Man, arrives on the island to determine whether in fact Irini might have been killed. He is an enigmatic, almost omnipotent character whose role is never really explained. He claims to have been sent from Athens but by whom? The Police? The woman’s family? The Gods? It’s not much of a spoiler to let on that I was no clearer on this subject by the end of the book (though this could be because I am particularly obtuse) (or could have something to do with my not paying close attention when I was supposed to be studying Greek mythology).
We learn that there were several people with a motive for Irini’s murder because she was thought to be having an affair with one of the married men on the island. The Fat Man takes us through a series of conversations with relevant island inhabitants to reveal the truth (or otherwise) of the island’s gossip and these are interspersed with flashbacks from key people’s perspectives including Irini’s, her husband’s and so on. For me the strongest part of the novel is the wrap up of this main thread because I didn’t see it coming, it depicted a truly ugly event but contained jolly good story telling and there was justice, of a kind, handed out. It took an awfully long time to get there though.
Even if I had not been looking forward to something lighter and happier I doubt I would ever have been fully enthralled in this tale as it’s a bit slow and lacking in tension for me. and the relationship between Irini and Theo is a bit too much like a bad gothic romance. For example there’s sequence in which Irini blathers on at considerable length about her attraction to the part of Theo’s arm which is hanging outside his truck window that made me want to poke my ears out with a compass but which I suspect the more romantically inclined reader would have found charming. However, I do admire the imagery of the writing and the way Zouroudi has created such an unpleasant cast of characters including the island itself. I’m sure it takes as much, if not more, skill to create hated characters as loved ones, and these people and this place are not easily forgettable.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Narrator Sean Barrett
Publisher BBC WW [this edition 2010]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 8 hours 50 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Source I bought it