While summer might not be the season that first springs to mind for reading murder-mysteries, there are several recent books set in Greece that are compelling enough to read any time of year. Referred to as “sunshine noir” these mysteries offer dramatic plots playing out against the beautiful backdrop of Greece and can sometimes seem as much a travelogue as a standard mystery, especially when set in the islands.
Writers may wax lyrical over the views, landscapes and seascapes, as well as the cuisine, describing the various delicacies typically served at the Greek table, while the hardboiled detective maps out the clues and eventually solves the murder. If a writer can create an imaginative enough plot with strong characters and most importantly, a complicated detective, several books in a mystery series are likely to follow.
Leta Serafim is the author of the Greek Islands Mystery series which features Yiannis Patronas, chief officer of the Chios police, solving cases. Serafim was a journalist at the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau before moving to Greece, where she taught art and illustrated books. Upon her return to the United States, she wrote feature stories for the Boston Globe before trying her hand at fiction. She continues to spend her summers in Greece. Her Athens-native husband with roots in Chios, Professor Philip Serafim, passed away on February 9 of this year and Serafim’s books include a simple dedication: “For Philip.”
The series’ first book, The Devil Takes Half, Serafim’s debut novel published in 2014, features an archeological dig on Chios where a severed hand is found lying in a blood-filled trench. Could it belong to Eleni Argentis, an archeologist who is also the daughter of a wealthy local ship owner? She and her young assistant, Petros, are both missing. Chief Officer Patronas suspects that Eleni and Petros happened upon something of real value that cost them their lives and although Patronas has little experience with homicide, he is determined to solve the crime.
When the Devil’s Idle, Book 2 of the series, published in 2015, is set on Patmos, the island of St. John and the Book of Revelation. Patronas is called in to solve the murder of a German tourist and gradually the terrible family secrets that led to the murder are revealed. Patronas’ top detective, Giorgos Tembelos, and Papa Michalis, an old priest and amateur sleuth with a fondness for TV detective shows, are brought in to help with the investigation. The six suspects at the house at the time of the murder— the gardener, housekeeper, the victim’s son and his wife and their two children, a boy of seven and a teenage girl of sixteen, all appear to be innocent, but the isolated estate is surrounded by high walls and has only one entrance: a metal gate that was bolted shut. Patronas can only conclude that one of the six is the killer.
From the Devil's Farm, Book 3 of the series, published in 2017, is set on Sifnos and follows a Greek-American tourist, Lydia Pappas, who stumbles upon a child’s body in the ruins of an ancient temple, well hidden on the top of a cliff. The boy has been bled dry, though no blood is in evidence. Greece’s financial crisis has reduced the police force on Sifnos to one officer, Petros Nikolaidis, so Patronas has been summoned from his home base of Chios to aid in the case.
The books mentioned above are available online.