Deadline in Athens, Part II
Kurt Wallander from Sweden, John Rebus from Scotland, Franz Heineken and Jack Irish from Australia, Hector Belascoaran Shayne from Mexico, Pepe Carvalho from Spain, Inspector Espinosa from Brazil, Brahim Llob from Algeria and Sartaj Singh from India come to mind, along with a couple of Americans you may have heard of named Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
I’m sure that if Kosovo and New Caledonia attain independence one day, they, too, will eventually produce angst-ridden, divorced, alcohol-weakened fictional sleuths sickened by the senseless violence of Pristina and Nouméa. And if those sleuths are police officers, they will clash with their officious superiors as often as they clash with murderers, drug dealers and blackmailers.
Petros Markaris’ Costas Haritos, chief inspector of the Athens CID, is decidedly of the breed, though with slight differences. Twenty pages into Deadline in Athens, for example, he hasn’t taken a drink yet. He also may turn out to be a bit more arrogant than most, and I’ll be anxious to see if this figures in the plot or is merely an incidental aspect of his character.
Markaris offers some interesting observations about journalism in Greece -- no surprise, given the novel’s titles (it's called The Late-Night News in the U.K.). A flashy young reporter, he has Haritos tell us, is “A modern-day Robespierre with a camera and a microphone” who refuses to address Haritos by name: “He believed … that he represented the conscience of the people, and the conscience of the people treated everyone equally: no name or sign of respect, courtesies that only lead to distinctions between citizens.”
This interested me because it's American journalists who have traditionally taken themselves seriously and waxed somber about their responsibilities and principles, sometimes to the amusement of their British colleagues. (Haritos has a wonderful comeback for the reporter: “I ignored him and addressed myself to them all as a body. If he wanted equality, he’d have it.”)
Haritos also tells the reader something that ought to make any newspaper reader or employee nod in sad recognition: “Reporters are always on my back. … Once it was newspapermen and newspapers; now it’s reporters and cameras.”
Even at this early stage, Haritos shows signs of the idealism that lurks beneath the crusty surface of so many fictional detectives. He conforms to type in another way, as well. I alluded to the quirkily solitary habits of middle-aged fictional sleuths; Haritos’ habit may be weirder than most. He reads dictionaries for pleasure.
P.S. I would not want to create the impression that this interesting group of fictional detectives is nothing but a big bag of symptoms. Jack Irish and Franz Heinken, in particular, are low on angst. Must be the air in Australia.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Crime fiction, Greece