Lurking evil and a passion for collecting

By Elisavet Kotzia - Kathimerini

Novelist Dimitris Mamaloukas has produced another good detective story in «The Lost Library of Dimitrios Mostras,» published by Kastaniotis. The story is set in Rome, with a multicultural cast of Italian prosecutors, police officers, housewives and informers, Greek diplomats and Serb migrants. It is based on two things, the evil that lurks in every corner of the Eternal City, and the untrammeled passion for collecting that obsesses several of the main characters. The evil takes the form of sexual perversion and murder, and the vengeful punishment that follows. The passion is for old books, which bring onstage the avid 19th century bibliophile Dimitrios Mostras and his precious collection of rare codexes and manuscripts that has, according to contemporary researchers, been lost for good. Mamaloukas, born in 1968, graduated in philosophy from an Italian university. He is the author of another two detective novels, «The Great Death in Votanikos» (2003) and «The Publisher's Abduction» (2005). His latest novel is a very readable addition to a tradition that has grown up in Greece over the past 15 years. Rainy Northern European roads, imposing Italian palaces and singular individuals marked by deep passions all create a striking atmosphere. Beneath the Roman sky, the contemporary multicultural phase that came into being in 1980 intersects with the period that immediately preceded it, the now almost mythical era of Vespas, Renault 4Ls and the Red Brigades. The writer skillfully handles the many strands of the plot, the unfolding mystery and the narrative pace. The ending - which it would be unfair to divulge - is ingenious in what it reveals about the hero's character and relationships. The secret compels the reader to rethink the entire story from a completely different viewpoint that gives the novel increased unity, far greater density, and significantly more weight. It's worth asking what has led to the distinct blossoming of the detective novel around the world, why it is so well done, not only abroad but also in Greece. A roomy genre As a genre, detective fiction is pluralistic, holistic one might say, as everything fits under its roof. As a genre with particular but very flexible rules, detective fiction seems to offer writers solid ground, a scaffolding, and a safety net on which they can count. It is partly the fact that the story usually concerns a certain category of people who get involved in crime, and another category that is, at least in theory, called on to deal with the crime. There is a mystery that must be solved and there is the action that is needed to achieve that goal. Already we have a universe more tangible than that of the infinite reality facing a writer who finds himself alone, face to face with the infinite world (and his undefined self). In the former case, the writer starts with certain facts - for a start the fact that the story is usually set in the center of a realistically portrayed universe, hence the very close relationship that has been forged of late between the detective novel and the social novel. Then the traces that arduously but inexorably lead the reader to the solution (even if there is no definite answer) form a thread that aids the writer of detective fiction. The plastic, creative fantasy that must start from scratch to create other kinds of novels has a more or less given basis to work from in detective fiction. Only in the real classics do we see cases that employ the rules of detective fiction in order to subvert it, as in Jorge Luis Borges's extraordinary short story «Death and the Compass.»