The sixth book in the Greek detective mystery series from Anne Zouroudi, The Bull of Mithros is not only different but a refreshing change from the usual crime thrillers. Set in a picturesque, remote island of Greece, the author painstakingly builds the mystery behind the prevalent myth, killings, abduction and robbery that took place many, many years ago.
The storyline is a little confusing while the plot itself is quirky. Come summer, tourists are drawn to this beautiful island of Mithros. However, on one sunny day, ‘arrives’ a tall stranger who is actually thrown overboard by his ‘mates’ into the sea. He has neither money nor any identity, and he is taken by Captain Fanis and his men from the Coastguards. Although he calls himself Manolis, some find his face familiar while some feel he has come to the island for a purpose.
After you are introduced to most of the characters and also what happened in the past, enters the ‘Fat Man’ that is investigator Hermes Diaktoros. He has come to the island on Aphrodite, his sailing vessel, to investigate the mystery behind the ‘bull of Mithros’ as well as the death of Socrates. The Fat Man is intrigued by the island’s ancient and exquisite golden bull figurine which incidentally coincides with the violent and mysterious death of the stranger. This violence has echoes in the island’s past, an unsolved crime, committed long before, apparently forgotten but not forgiven. As the investigator goes about solving the mystery of who is guilty and who is not, he unearths a web of secrets and misplaced loyalties, and it soon becomes clear that the bull is just a concocted story and may be the least of the island’s dark past.
The book is well written but some details like storing the dead body of the stranger in a butcher’s freezer since the island has no facility, the references to drachmas, its value and other descriptions are difficult to digest. Apart from the mystery element in the book, the author’s description of the dry, hot countryside, the dilapidated houses, the twisting lanes, their way of life and day to day activities in the island are vividly described while the characters themselves are pretty colourful and vibrant. The sizzling heat and rising temperatures from which even donkeys need shade; the portly, scented old man; the young, lazy, card-playing army recruits; the laissez faire attitude of officials; the squalor and the mosquitoes; and the green clear sea is literally a visual treat for the reader. The surprising element in this detective novel is : one gets to know a lot about that country, its lifestyle, culture, mannerisms, cuisine and lastly, geography. Lot of Greek words and phrases have been used which gives the book a local, pagan flavour and touch.
Now coming to the character of the detective, Hermes Diaktoros who is compelling but definitely not lovable, has been developed on the lines of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and a mixture of other famous detectives. He is fat, down to earth, loves to dress, addicted to habits and fastidious about food and drinks. But ultimately, solves the simple mystery in his own style and inimitable manner. The book makes for an interesting read and is gentle on the brain especially if you are relaxing with it during a summer siesta.