Greek 'crisis' crime novelist captivates Germans

BERLIN, GERMANY, Yannick Pasquet- It's nearly midnight and in a matter of minutes Greece will leave the euro. Banks are shuttered, TV shows heatedly debate whether salaries will be paid... and Inspector Haritos has a new crime to solve.
The prescient, if fictional, setting for a novel by Greece's "cult" crime writer Petros Markaris was written three years ago and has captured readers' imaginations well beyond Greece's borders -- especially in Germany.

Markaris's colourful tales of corruption and often grisly murders -- tax cheats poisoned with hemlock recalling the execution of the Greek philosopher Socrates -- belie a biting commentary on Greece's crisis-hit society.
His books have topped the German bestseller list, regaling readers with the dogged investigations of his central character, the grumpy but methodical Costas Haritos, the chief of Athens's murder squad, who has not been paid for three months.
Born in the Turkish city of Istanbul to a Greek mother and Armenian father, 78-year-old Markaris studied in Vienna, then translated the works of Goethe and Brecht. He speaks fluent German but writes his novels in Greek.
"This cosmopolitan culture gives him a distance, an irony, a humour which speaks to the German-language public," his translator Michaela Prinzinger told AFP.
He was awarded the Goethe Medal by Germany for his services to the language and international cultural relations.
- 'Misguided ways' -
Markaris himself declined an AFP request for an interview, citing his homeland's current struggle to stay solvent, as its EU partners, led by the bloc's biggest economy and effective paymaster Germany, demand reforms for aid.
His 2012 novel "Bread, Education, Liberty" already imagined a "Grexit", as the third in his "crisis trilogy", and attacks leftist politicians who have taken over power from the Greek military junta.
His Swiss-based German-language publisher, Diogenes, declined to say how many books he has sold but described him as a "cult author".
The trilogy's first volume, "Expiring Loans", saw bankers and international financiers decapitated with a sabre.
Then came "Termination" in which a serial killing tax collector murders a wealthy surgeon and businessman, among others, for evading the tax authorities.
"Markaris considers the detective novel a means of investigating the misguided ways of his country," said France's Loic Marcou, who devoted his university thesis to exploring the genre of Greek whodunits.
As his novels evolve and Greece sinks deeper into dire economic straits, "the murderer more and more becomes a political agitator who settles his differences" with those seen as responsible for Greece's woes, he said.
Through the eyes of Haritos, and his wife Adriani, Markaris's novels also build up a picture of a corruption-blighted society grappling with the rise of neo-Nazis.
With his love of Greek coffee, Haritos is portrayed zig-zagging through Athens's bustling streets in his Spanish Seat car trying to avoid demonstrations by austerity-hit citizens.
- 'Even with drachma, we party' -
Germany's influence jumps out of the pages as the country blamed by many Greeks for their financial predicament.
Haritos questions a witness who resembles Chancellor Angela Merkel and is called Mrs Metaxas -- the name of a Greek dictator -- while a German film crew captures post-Grexit images of Greeks partying.
One of the dancers shouts that they want to show the Germans "even with the drachma, we party. They don't know how."
Meanwhile, Uli, a German character, whose nationality initially provokes Adriani's mistrust, ends up being invited to share a traditional home-cooked meal of stuffed courgettes.
Markaris "makes people laugh about Germany and that is something liberating", Prinziger said. "Laughter allows an understanding of the other to develop."
Despite the gloom and doom hanging over Greece, however, Markaris also draws out the humour and even an air of optimism in his country.
"Just when you think she's dying, she always finds a hero to save her," one of his characters says, of the country. "Greece will never die because she always pulls a hero out of her hat at the last minute."
It's a sentiment that many Greeks hope will prove to be more than just fiction.

Sunday, July 12th 2015
Yannick Pasquet

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