Deadline in Athens, by Petros Markaris, is a novel that feels almost like a time capsule or microcosm of Athens, Greece. Having lived and studied in Athens during my undergraduate years, I was as interested in the setting and backdrop of this novel as I was in the plot. The writing evokes sights and sounds, as well as the general social and political feelings of the bustling Greek city. The main character is police inspector Costas Haritos, a gruff cop with problems pervading both his personal and professional lives. He is by no means a knight in shining armor, but a flawed man that takes some getting used to.
The novel begins with the brutal murder of an Albanian couple, which the Greek police cursorily investigate. The general sentiment in the novel is that the Albanians in Greece are a bad element of society, and that it’s no tragedy that two of them have turned up dead. When another Albanian is arrested for the murder, one character even comments that it’s a good day when three Albanians are taken off the streets of Athens. The ingrained racism is off-putting, but is also a reality that I noted during my own time in Greece.
While the policemen are congratulating themselves on closing the case, a reporter named Yanna Karayoryi breezes into the station and tells them that not only did they get it wrong, but they also missed a crucial element: a child. Karayoryi proceeds to announce this on the evening news, much to the chagrin of the police. Haritos is furious that the reporter is either lying or not sharing all she knows, but before he can press her for more information, Karayoryi is also murdered.
Haritos must investigate Karayoryi’s murder as well as continuing to try to run down the truth of the alleged missing child. The closer Haritos looks, the more potential motives and murderers he uncovers for each victim. Connections are made and then broken within pages. The investigation is murky and tangled, with many red herrings and unexpected twists. The story lagged a bit in parts, though sometimes small details that emerged in seemingly unimportant passages would then become important clues later on. I got a few things right, but the big reveal was not what I was expecting at all.
A really singular aspect of this novel is the competition and animosity between the police and the news media. The reporters consider it a victory if they can scoop the police and flaunt it on television, while the police are constantly trying to keep the reporters at arm’s length from the investigation. Cooperation is minimal and grudging. In the United States, we’ve become highly used to crime as entertainment, whether fictional (a la CSI and Law and Order) or real (on the news, as well as shows like Nancy Grace). In Deadline in Athens — get the pun, by the way? — the investigations aren’t just about ratings; they’re about establishing a new order in a nation that is still finding its modern identity.
I don’t know that this book would have wide appeal for the general American audience, simply because it is so rooted in the culture of practices of Greece. Familiarity with Greece — especially Athens — was really the main thing that kept me tied to this book when the mystery aspect wasn’t engaging me. It’s an interesting read, an unusual and unique mystery, but it’s not what I would consider a thriller. The suspense is there in parts, but it wasn’t hard to put down the way some mysteries are. I enjoyed it, but it also took me considerably longer than I expected to finish it. It’s a dark, gritty novel, with many noir aspects. It’s a worthwhile read, but not necessarily a fun one.