When Athens, Greece based private investigator Alex Mavros is hired by a Hollywood production company to help locate a missing member of the crew, he pretty much assumes he’ll be heading into a strange new world.
Of course, he thought that strange new world would be the hustle and bustle of a big time Hollywood production, not the island of Crete. As he soon discovers, however, Cretans have their own way of doing things, a way foreign to even other Greeks.
Mavros is tasked with finding the personal assistant of the film’s leading lady, something the local authorities haven’t shown much interest in as the missing woman is an adult and there are no signs of foul play.
The film’s producer and director have given Mavros the green light to do whatever he needs, however, as their star is refusing to work until her friend is found. Mavros is good at what he does–he’s never failed to find a missing person–and before too long he’s managed to track the woman down.
And that’s when the mysteries really start to pile up.
After a seven year hiatus (see author Paul Johnston’s guest post, “Bringing a PI Back from the Dead”), it was wonderful for fans of the Mavros series to see the return of the half Greek half Scots private investigator in The Silver Stain. In addition to just being damn good mysteries, the series is lush with attention to detail with regard to Greek culture and history, as Johnston cleverly sets his each of his stories in different locales around Greece, allowing both Mavros and the reader to experience different facets of Greece with every new adventure.
In The Silver Stain, Johnston incorporates the history of Crete, specifically The Battle of Crete during World War II, when the island was overrun and occupied by Rome–Berlin Axis troops. He does so quite adeptly by having the Hollywood production be on the island for purposes of shooting a film about the invasion. It allows Johnston to weave the history of the island into the plot in such a way that feels very natural to the story’s flow. It makes sense that the production would have on-set consultants, and Johnston provides two colorful and intriguing ones in Rudolf Kersten and David Waggoner, a former German paratrooper and British secret agent respectively, both of whom were present during the battle and occupation and currently live on the island.
Also on display is Johnston’s talent for creating plots that resemble a Russian nesting doll–Mavros gets to the bottom of one thing only to discover another…then another…then another–a tactic Johnston uses to allow Mavros to explore the current climate of Crete beyond the missing persons mystery that initially brings him to the island. Along the way Mavros gets a taste of the tricky duality of the locals: their willingness on the surface to welcome German tourists and business despite the atrocities committed by them during the war, contrasted against a deeper running undercurrent of resentment held by many, especially pockets of borderline lawless villages still living with an almost wartime resistance mentality.
And lest you think a mystery high on culture and history lacks in excitement, be assured there are neo-Nazis, drug lords and crime bosses, crooked cops, an even more crooked antiques dealer, vendettas, fistfights, shootings, stabbings, and even a hanging for good measure. Not exactly the kind of thing the Crete Board of Tourism would want put on the brochure, but things that certainly help make for one hell of a mystery.
So, if you want a little history with your mystery, I highly recommend you give the Mavros series a go, and you can jump right in with The Silver Stain.
The Silver Stain is available from Crème de la Crime (ISBN: 978-1780295237).