Short stories of crime and more by veterans and a newcomer

Short stories are notoriously difficult to market abroad, but that doesn’t deter Greek authors from producing them. All the literary awards in Greece have a short-story category and publishers often elicit material from several writers for anthologies. Two recent publications indicate some of the range available for those who enjoy short sharp doses of crime. «Ellinika englimata» (Greek Crimes) published by Kastaniotis, is a knockoff from an Italian collection that the publisher’s foreign fiction editor Antaios Chrysostomidis had translated. He was inspired to do a similar volume «painted in Greek colors,» he explains in the foreword. Kastaniotis invited some of Greece’s leading practitioners of the genre to contribute new crime stories. Noir specialist Petros Markaris’s «Triimeria» (Three Days), which opens the anthology, is a gripping portrayal of the three days in September 1955 when mobs attacked Istanbul Greeks and their property. But is it crime fiction? There’s a corpse, to be sure, and a policeman, but the identity and cause of death are revealed almost as an aside. Perhaps the larger political events are meant to be seen as the real crime. «Apo allothi se allothi» (From Alibi to Alibi) by Petros Martinidis is a cunningly plotted jeu d’esprit. The narrator, a weak-willed professor forever running to the aid of a former lover for whom he left his wife, risks his career and even his life to extract her from her latest scrape. She calls for help from an isolated villa containing the dead body of the narrator’s former wife’s former husband. Complicated? That’s just the beginning. As the title promises, this story unfolds a giddying succession of twists, recounted with humor by an anti-hero refreshingly aware of his own folly. Athina Kakouri bases her story, «O xenos» (The Foreigner), on strongly drawn characters and their passions. And Costas Kyriakopoulos offers an intriguing profession for his crime buster in «Ena lathos vima» (Wrong Step). His hero works for the security services examining foreign literature for signs of propaganda against the state and national security. Other contributors are Andreas Apostolidis, Dimitris Mamaloukas, Giorgos Bramos, Titina Danelli, Marlena Politopoulou and Filipos Filippou. Impressive debut On a very different wavelength is Lena Kitsopoulou’s impressive debut collection «Nychterides» (Bats), published by Kedros, which won her this year’s Diavazo prize for a newcomer. Kitsopoulou, who is also an actress, draws the reader into her world from the first page with original plots and an accomplished range of voices. The opening story, «O yios mou o gyftos» (My Son the Gypsy), showcases her talents. Narrated by a foul-mouthed, self-pitying but cynical young woman full of contradictions, it tells a wrenching story without a trace of sentimentality. The narrator, a drug addict, keeps a secret watch on the young son she has handed over to a Gypsy woman, ringing the woman every now and then to abuse her for allowing the boy to smoke. There is no happy ending. «Sakis» is another grim tale. A disfunctional family is observed in the buildup to a violent crisis by an unusually discreet narrator, whose identity it would not be fair to disclose here. Not all the stories work equally well. The protracted communal laugh that ends «Athens December Nine» seems artificially imposed, for instance, as if the writer were not sure how else to tie up the ends. But Kitsopoulou has capably established her own distinctive style and, it seems, has staked out the grittier side of urban life as her preferred territory.

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