The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi

DATE FINISHED: June 1st, 2012

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  Mysterious investigator Hermes Diaktoros travels to visit an old friend in his old village in Arcadia – a village now almost unrecognisable under the pressures of tourism and ‘progress’.  Unfortunately, he arrives just in time to discover his friend has been the victim of a fatal hit and run accident.  Initially, Hermes himself is prime suspect, but the local police soon come to realise that he will be an invaluable ally in solving the crime.

THOUGHTS:  My biggest concern with the first in this series of mysteries (The Messenger of Athens) was simply that it was lacking in actual mystery.  This second book promised to address that concern as I saw from the first that the police were to play a larger role in the resolution of the crime, even if they mistakenly, initially, assume Hermes himself to be involved.  Once more, Zouroudi builds up a sense of the Greek community, a different slice of life from the cloistered island of Book 1 – but for me, there was less interest in the characters who are very one-dimensional, black or white, and the mystery while a little more pronounced, is still I’m afraid far from mysterious.

The unfortunate by-product of choosing a detective who is on the side of the ancient gods is that it seems little investigation needs to actually be done.  The fates introduce Hermes to just the right person he needs to speak to, who proceeds to tell him their part of the jigsaw with little or no persuasion necessary, each nudging the story a little further toward its inevitable conclusion.  There are no false leads, no ambiguity, no misdirection: from the beginning, the ‘baddies’ are clearly signposted and having read the first in the series, we know they will meet their comeuppance.  Hermes’ original brand of divine retribution is perhaps the saving grace of the book; however what little interest it provides is not sufficient to rescue an otherwise stolid, dependable, likeable but relentlessly predictable storyline.

When I read a mystery, I want to have to do a little work: I want to be misled, proved wrong, made to think again and taken by surprise.  There is no satisfaction in watching a story unravel to a conclusion which was obvious from the first chapter.  Zouroudi provides a single-strand, linear story, which lacks any sense of depth or subtlety, or interwoven strands to untangle.  She provides a pleasant, comfortable journey with a pleasant sea-view which slots comfortably into the ‘cosy crime’ genre.  Sadly, this series is not for me.

FOLLOWING ON:  Try some period mystery with a Greek flavour by Mary Stewart: This Rough Magic, The Moonspinners and My Brother Michael, for example.  For me, these are far more atmospheric and satisfying examples of what cosy crime can be!

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