Monday, October 10, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass - Ancient & Modern Greece


Every time someone orders flaming saganaki in a Greek restaurant out here in Chicago the entire restaurant shouts out "Opa!" I think this is something oddly peculiar to Greek restaurants in the Windy City, especially if you happen to be eating at The Parthenon, a 40 year old restaurant in GreekTown where the dish of cheese set on fire originated. Anyway, I couldn't resist that since we're in Greece this week for the EuroPass Challenge sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. For your reading pleasure I have found a few books set in both ancient and modern Greece.

Gladys Mitchell wrote two books set in Greece. They are slightly related to each other. First is Come Away, Death (1937) which takes Mrs. Bradley on a tour of Greece along with twelve others including the tour host Sir Rudri Hopkinson who plans to recreate rituals at the ruined temples in hopes of summoning the goddess Demeter. Mysterious happenings with a statue, poisonous vipers, blood sacrifice and a severed head all play a part in this typically odd detective story from the eccentric Gladys Mitchell and her equally eccentric psychiatrist sleuth Dame Beatrice Bradley.

Over forty years later Mitchell returned to Greece in Lament for Leto (1971). As with Christie who re-used a character from At Bertram's Hotel in her later book Nemesis, Mitchell recycles a character from Come Away, Death. It is Ronald Dick (one of the travelers in the earlier book) who fortuitously runs into Mrs. Bradley. He tells her he is organizing another tour of the islands this time as a cruise. Mrs. Bradley agrees to join his group and no sooner are they at sea then strange events take place. There is a jewelry theft on board ship and later the body of a woman is found at the foot of the sea cliff known as Sappho's Leap. Mrs. Bradley does her usual inimitable turn as detective to reveal the culprit.

For those who enjoy historical mysteries I can highly recommend the trio of books by Paul Doherty which feature Alexander the Great and his physician/advisor Telemon. I previously reviewed at length the second book The Godless Man which you can read here. Each of the books features at least one impossible crime and sometimes also a locked room mystery. There are multiple crimes committed by various gruesome means. Often the books will have more than one murderer at work. It is war time and there is much skulduggery and espionage working their insidious way into the intricate, sometimes complex, but thoroughly engaging stories.

In the first book, The House of Death, Telemon must discover the identity of a mysterious killer who leaves behind puzzling messages alluding to passages in The Iliad and the playwright Euripides. The Godless Man is similar with a master spy calling himself The Centaur plaguing Ephesus with killings. The last book, The Gates of Hell, takes place during Alexander's siege of Halicarnasus and involves the search for a manuscript in code that holds the key to a hidden treasure and the secret to capturing the city. Of course, several murders occur throughout the story including one committed in a sealed and haunted room. I like this series, but they may not be for readers who shy away from books with high body counts and graphically described murders and violence. War ain't a pretty thing, my friends, and it was nastier than Hell in ancient times according to Doherty.


  1. Thanks for these suggestions John. I can feel another Gladys Mitchell coming on :-)

  2. John: Thanks for the reviews on Gladys Mitchell. I had not heard of her before your post.

    I have a Paul Doherty waiting from a different series.

  3. Bill-

    Gladys Mitchell lingered in obscurity for decades. Her books were rarely reprinted in affordable paperbacks versions in the US. It was only in the past ten years that Rue Morgue Press has reissued several of her better (and previously very hard to find) books in trade paperback. They are usually easily found at affordable prices from used book sellers. But a warning: she is not for everyone. Her writing style is peculiar, slightly arch, extremley British, and her plots tend to be convoluted and bizarre. Many of them involve folklore, British legends and witchcraft. Because Mrs. Bradley is a Freudian psychiatrist there tends to be a lot of "psychological" motivation and "intuitive" detective work that I find annoyingly dated. Come Away, Death is one of the better books, Lament for Leto less so.

    I always recommend Merlin's Furlong to those who have never read Mitchell. The Rising of the Moon is a second choice for beginners. Both are fairly easy to find with Merlin's furlong available from Rue Morgue Press. If you like either of those then might want to continue with the other 60 plus books she has written.

  4. Peter Dickinson's The Lizard in the Cup is a fine detective novel set in contemporary Greece.

  5. Mrs. Bradley in Greece! More books to look for. I love the series by Gladys Mitchell (or at least those that I have come across so far...)

  6. Come Away, Death has a pretty good plot, though I must admit the Greek mythology stuff didn't appeal to me so much. I really got tired of those two schoolboy characters too!

    This was a very well-regarded book though in UK.

  7. Opa!

    They shout it in Greek restaurants in Detroit, too.

    Sarah Caudwell wrote a Hilary Tamar mystery set in Greece. "The Shortest Way To Hades," I think.