Siger's "Author's Note" at the opening of the book gives fair warning: "To write about Greece and ignore the [Eastern Orthodox] church is as foolhardy as any surgeon who seeks to understand his patient without attending to the heart."
And Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis is a man of the heart. With his assistant, detective Yianni Kouros, his previous investigations have linked him with a magnificent and courageous woman, the lovely Lila, a young, socially prominent widow who's captured Andreas' love. And now Lila is about to give birth to their child. But can Kaldis stay home with her? No chance -- the scandal and complications of a murdered monk on the holy island of Patmos demands the expertise that Kaldis has developed over the years. He is the "fixer" when crime strikes the politically prominent and powerful. And 200 miles from Athens, where the monk's throat was cut in the town square, the mess of such a murder on the Sunday before Easter qualifies as a political hot potato. Hopefully, Lila's muscles and the baby's urge toward air will hold off long enough to solve the crime.
Then again, this may not be one of those crimes that resolves quickly. The silences and secrets of the interlinked monasteries and their leaders begin to involve international intrigue. Old faces turn up with new names. And the Patmos police force, caught in its own net of power and privilege, has already cleaned up the crime scene, moved the body, and fallen into similar silences.
Siger conveys the weight and force of the church in the lives of Greeks, secular and religious alike, while leavening scenes with the gentle humor of these seasoned investigators, for when they arrive at the main church on the isle of Patmos:
Andreas wasn't sure if the monk was taking them the quickest way, or one intended to impress them with the majesty of the place. As they followed the man up a flight of stone steps to a second floor, Kouros whispered, "Do you think we should drop some bread crumbs?"When the abbot arrives -- and is persuaded to move beyond his usual boundaries in revealing something about the dead monk -- the crime begins to look like it's the means of permanently silencing a monk who has accused others of corruption. And the forcefully searched condition of the dead monk's cell (in spite of the abbot's seal on the door) suggests that dangerous people are making sure the accusations die with the man.
Andreas stifled a laugh.
The monk turned right, stopped by a heavy wooden door, opened it, and gestured for them to enter. It was a large room with two windows. At the far end there looked to be more than enough chairs to seat every monk in the monastery. The monk pointed to two unadorned wooden chairs in front of a massive wooden desk, then left, leaving Andreas and Kouros alone. They sat and waited.
But there are more forces at work than the investigators realize, and soon Andreas Kaldis finds himself entangled on multiple levels, personal as well as police, with Greece's forces of crime and of political pressure. And when Russian mobsters appear to have a stake in how the monasteries are settling their affairs, Kaldis has to admit that his "boss" is right: As a dedicated fixer, he is indeed the only investigator in Greece who can and should be stepping into this territory.
Some great twists of plot and profound realizations about Greek life add to the progress of the book, and by the end, Siger has neatly captured his niche in establishing a detective and a landscape that beckon and bond. I'm looking forward to a long and enjoyable series from this author.
And oh, yes, about that baby on the way ... well, the women in Kaldis' life have their own sense of power and justice. Read on.
NOTE: We're excited to welcome Jeffrey Siger tomorrow, here on the Kingdom Books blog, to reveal some of the intriguing underpinnings of PREY ON PATMOS. Check back in a few hours -- I've got to go cope with the post-Christmas blizzard arriving later tonight.