Whether you’re eager for a summer holiday or an escape from winter, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a Mediterranean trip. World-class food and drink, beautiful scenery, and a delightful climate make the Mediterranean region a tourist mecca.
But whatever else the Mediterranean is, it’s not peaceful and safe. Don’t believe me? Just a quick look at crime fiction should convince you. Of course, the Mediterranean is a very large and diverse part of the world, and one post couldn’t possibly do it justice. But here are a few examples to show you what I mean.
Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, and Solea) includes dark, noir portraits of the underside of life in Marseille. The novels feature Fabio Montale, who joined the police after a very rocky youth. On the one hand, these novels are not light, ‘happy’ reading. They are gritty, and things do not all end happily. That said, though, they also portray Marseille as a vibrant place with fine food and drink, excellent music and nightlife, and a diverse, fascinating culture. Both Izzo and his creation love the city, despite its flaws and dangers. It’s a very Mediterranean place, and its port figures greatly into the culture.
Teresa Solana’s novels feature Barcelona PIs (and twin brothers) Eduard and Josep ‘Pep’ (who goes by the name of Borja) Martínez. These brothers are in business together, but they couldn’t be more different. Still, they have complementary skills. Among other things, this series (thus far, three novels: A Not So Perfect Crime, A Shortcut to Paradise, and The Sound of One Hand Killing) depict contemporary life in Barcelona. There are crimes and other mysteries explored in the novels, but they also feature a great deal of wit as Solana holds up a mirror to Barcelona’s culture. That said, though, Solana also shows Barcelona’s physical beauty, climate, diversity, and delicious food and drink.
Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series will probably tell you a very similar thing about those novels. They take place mostly in and near the fictional town of Vigàta, on the island of Sicily. Of course, Sicily is part of Italy. But it’s got its own unique climate, culture, and dialect. The lifestyle of Sicily, including food, music, and so on, are as much influenced by the mix of cultures of the Mediterranean as they are by Rome – perhaps more. And Montalbano is a product of that lifestyle. He speaks the local dialect, he’s an expert on the food, and so on.
There’s also plenty of Mediterranean crime fiction that takes place in Greece. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s short story, Triangle at Rhodes, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at a luxury hotel on the Island of Rhodes. Also staying at the hotel are famous/notorious actress Valentine Chantry and her husband, Captain Tony Chantry. The other hotel guests include handsome, young Douglas Gold and his wife, Marjorie. It’s not very long before Valentine and Douglas begin a not-very-well-hidden affair that’s the talk of the hotel. Then, one afternoon, Valentine collapses and dies from a poisoned drink. The first suspect is, of course, her husband. But it doesn’t turn out to be nearly as simple as that…
There’s also plenty of contemporary crime fiction based in Mediterranean Greece. For example, Anne Zouroudi’s series features the very enigmatic Hermes Diaktoros. He’s a sort of private investigator who says that he’s been ‘sent from Athens’ to look into cases. We don’t learn an awful lot about him, but we do know that he has a knack for getting people to talk to him, and for finding out hidden secrets. In several of these novels, Diaktoros travels to parts of southern Greece, and to Greek islands in the Mediterranean. And those settings play important roles in the novels. Zouroudi doesn’t gloss over the poverty and other difficult challenges faced by some of the people who live in Greece. At the same time, she depicts some of the things that can make life there very appealing: the climate, the food, and so on.
Jeffrey Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels also take place in Greece, often (not always) in southern Greece and on its islands in the Mediterranean. This is a police procedural series that ties in Greece’s ancient history with the contemporary murders that Kaldis and his team investigate. Among other things, it’s a look at the way Greece’s modern culture is impacted by its past. And the novels certainly feature the influence of the Mediterranean on that culture.
Christodoulos Moisa’s The Hour of the Grey Wolf takes place in 1973 Cyprus. Journalist Steve Carpenter, a New Zealander of Cypriot descent, has been wounded in Vietnam, and decides to go to Cyprus to recuperate. He moves to his parents’ home village, Mpalloura, and starts the work of rebuilding his life. Then one day, he discovers the body of Alexis Pitas. It’s obvious the victim’s been dead for a time, but there’s no evidence as to who killed him – certainly not as to why. Pitas was by way of being a sort of friend who provided Carpenter with fresh eggs and fruit, so Carpenter has a special interest in finding out what happened to him. That, plus the fact that he’s a journalist, gives Carpenter the motivation to look into the murder. But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, it’s a small place where everybody knows everybody. Stirring up ‘trouble’ isn’t exactly valued. For another, this case will, in its way, lead back to Peterson’s past.
And then there’s Charlotte Jay’s Arms For Adonis, which takes place in a village near Beirut. Sarah Lane lives there with her French lover, Marcel. She’s made the decision to leave Marcel, and packs her things to go. Then, she goes into Beirut, where she visits an outdoor market. She’s exploring the stalls when a bomb goes off, changing everything. Before she really knows what’s happened, she’s rescued (or is it abducted?) and whisked off to a house she doesn’t know, away from the city. She was planning to return to her native London, but instead, finds herself caught up in a web of murder, revolution, and intrigue.
And that’s the thing about the Mediterranean region. It’s gorgeous, with a lovely climate and mouth-watering food and drink. It’s an exciting blend of cultures, and offers a unique way of living. But safe? Peaceful? Not so much. And I haven’t even come close to mentioning all of the Mediterranean’s beautiful destinations…
ps. Thanks, Max Pixel, for the lovely ‘photo!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dennis Roussos’ My Reason.