Inspector Haritos is back on a case that gets personal

“Vasikos metohos» («Main Shareholder»), the eagerly awaited sequel to Petros Markaris’s trilogy of crime novels featuring Inspector Costas Haritos, has just been published by Gavriilidis. Once again, Markaris sets his plot in the all-too-recognizable world of Athens today, and the crimes that Haritos investigates reflect the social, political and economic network of relations by which contemporary Greek society operates. The inspector and his family find themselves embroiled in the first, and most spectacular, crime in this book. A mysterious gang of hooded terrorists has hijacked a ferryboat with 300 passengers aboard, including Haritos’s daughter Katerina and her fiance Fanis who are traveling to Crete for a short break after her successful PhD viva voce. Disobeying orders to stay in Athens, Haritos goes to Crete where he finds there is little he can do to help because the public order minister, who senses his own position is shaky, has called in the anti-terrorist brigade over the head of Haritos’s superior, Gikas, thus sidestepping – and humiliating – the police. Love-hate That, and Gikas’s unexpected concern for Katerina, forges a temporary alliance between the two men as their habitually prickly relationship softens into what Haritos views as a suspiciously friendly accord. At the same time, his love-hate relationship with Sotiropoulos, the unofficial leader of the swarm of the crime reporters that regularly descend on Haritos’s office, comes under further strain when the determined reporter scoops an interview with Haritos’s wife, Adriani. To her husband’s chagrin, Adriani appears on television to share her views of the events with millions of viewers. As if that isn’t enough, the hijackers, who turn out to be extreme Greek nationalists who fought in Bosnia on the side of the Serbs, threaten to kill the ferry passengers one by one unless charges against them of killing civilians are dropped. And back in Athens, someone has started murdering people who work in advertising. The plot is intriguing, if a little far-fetched, but the precise workings of its intricacies is not the real focus of the book. «Main Shareholder» updates and enriches the fresco of life in Athens that was depicted in the first three books in the series. Interest centers on the same interlocking strands of crime, politics and the media, as seen through the jaded but observant eye of Haritos, who this time is torn between concern for his daughter and the demands of his job. «Main Shareholder» is set in the post-Olympic Games city, where the once-lauded, now neglected, sports facilities are in such a state of dilapidation that a murderer can dump a body at the disused beach volleyball site without attracting attention until a guard uses the premises to answer a call of nature. Markaris takes us on another tour of Athens as Haritos – who is still, to the disgust of his colleagues and wife, driving his antiquated Mirafiori – pursues both his investigation and a running internal commentary on the world around him. His trips back and forth across the city reflect something of the author’s complex relationship with Athens. «If you look down on Athens from Lycabettus Hill, and see that endless expanse of cement with a few lines of traffic snaking their way through it, you might think: Are you mad? What are you doing here? If you had any brains you’d get out of here. But if you decide to stay, you discover the hidden beauties of the city,» said Markaris at the launch of «Main Shareholder» on Tuesday evening at the Ianos bookstore in downtown Athens. «It is the contrasts I adore, being able to turn a corner and be in a completely different place.» And once again, the stories behind the crimes are interconnected, both with each other and with the troubled recent past of Greece. That is deliberate. As Markaris explained: «What happens now has its roots in the past. Greece has never had a proper rendering of accounts about the occupation, the civil war and the military dictatorship. I try to get people to see that without discussion and dialogue about the recent past, we cannot deal with the present.» In that, Markaris is very much in line with current trends in the genre. As he put it, «in much crime fiction, crime is an opportunity to talk about other things.» Noting that the genre has changed as crime itself has changed, he commented, «Crime these days is mainly economic crime and so it is entangled with society.» In his view that also explains why, as one listener pointed out, so many old Leftists write crime fiction: «Leftist writers have left behind their Marx and Trotsky and are trying to see how society functions.» For all that seriousness of purpose, there is nothing didactic or dull about the book. Markaris is a wickedly accurate observer of human habits and deflator of pretensions, particularly in their contemporary Greek incarnations. A minister ready to sacrifice his subordinates to save his career, officials jockeying for position, advertising executives who value profit over human life are all grist to his mill. We won’t spoil the fun by giving away any more of the story, but we can reveal that there is at least one more Inspector Haritos book in the pipeline. «I’ve already got the idea for it in my head,» Markaris promised.