Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Dead Man in Athens

Posted by nliakos on September 2, 2012

by Michael Pearce (Carroll & Graf, 2006)

My second light read is a light mystery set in Athens in the decade prior to World War 1. Seymour (unclear whether it’s his first or last name; I suspect the latter) is a London detective of Polish and Hungarian ancestry who is sent to Athens to investigate the death of the exiled Ottoman sultan’s cat because it is feared that the sultan himself will be the next victim.  A polyglot, Seymour goes around asking everyone from the kitchen staff to the sultan’s wives in the harem what they remember about when the cat died, apparently poisoned. He uncovers all sorts of intrigues and tries to navigate the tense political atmosphere of the Balkans. He becomes friendly with one of the locals, Dr Metaxas, and kind of falls for the doctor’s freethinking daughter, Aphrodite. Toward the end of the book, a new character is introduced: Popadopoulos (should be Papadopoulos, technically), a Greek detective. “Pop” is a very sympathetic character; I wish Seymour (and the reader) had had the benefit of his wisdom throughout the book.

The reader gets a sense of the complicated politics of the time and also learns about Blériot machines, an early type of aircraft. (Some people were obsessed with the wartime potential of these tiny planes, while others dismissed them as toys.)  I enjoyed the book. Although the historic events are not always accurate (for example, according to my husband, who knows about such things, the Ottoman sultan was not in exile in Athens in 1912), reading the novel opened my eyes to things I knew nothing about before, and what more can one ask of a book?

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