Had Agatha Christie ever had to solve a murder mystery while on holiday on one of the Greek islands that would be a bit like the crime dramas of acclaimed mystery novelist Ann Zouroudi. Ann’s eyes and voice are Greek through and through even if she is not a native Hellene. Each and every one of her detective fiction novels are set on the distinctively Greek landscape and make use of Greek characters and sensibilities. Could it be called escapist literature, the fact that Zouroudi chooses not only the setting of her novels but also their major characters as Greek? Could we dismiss her books as easy summer reads written by a bored British vacationer on the Greek isles? Absolutely not. Skimming through her books, top-sellers in both the UK and US markets, you can smell the oregano wafting through the pages, the freshness of the fish she describes for dinner, and the snatches of “kali spera”. Only a true philhellene who has spent countless days and hours fixed on understanding the Hellenic sensibility, who has been moved by the poetry of sea, land and sky, the very fabric of the land could fabricate the meticulous descriptions that float out of her fiction like picture postcards and fuzzy but warm memories of summers come and gone.
Her detective hero, Hermes Diaktoros, combines the shrewdness of Sherlock Holmes with the wisdom of a real psychoanalyst of human character. Mature, collected, but compassionate and passionate, he combines the cold rationality of other detective heroes with the joie de vivre of a warm throbbing heart that could only belong to a true Greek. In his existence, he typifies the Greek way of solving problems; that this character could be birthed by a British ex-pat testifies to a feat that could only have been accomplished by a keen insider. That is what Zoroudis is—a true insider of the heart and soul of Greece. You get the sense from reading her novels, although all written in English, that “it is all Greek to me.”
Perhaps this is so because Zouroudis had married into the culture for many years. She first fell in love with the place while vacationing with her sister in the 80’s. As she writes on her website,“We arrived at night; there was nothing to see,” Anne recalls. “But the next morning, I opened the shutters of our rented house, and bam! Love at first sight. The brilliant blue sea, the scent of herbs on the breeze, the timelessness of the place… It was the first moment of a love affair which has lasted twenty years.” Then she fell in love with a handsome fisherman from the island of Symi, outside of Rhodes. She gave up a lucrative career in the financial industry (she was a top-seller in both the City of London and Wall Street) to live a simple sea-land-and sky existence with a humble fisherman. They had a son William or Vasillis, who is himself on holiday to Greece as you read this post. Although she has always written, having won writing contests ever since grade school, she did not start writing in earnest about Greece and her falling out until after her divorce. She garnered literary success with the publication of The Messenger of Athens, the first book in the series of ” Seven Deadly Sins” Mystery. She says she writes books she would like to read herself, hence crime fiction set in Greece, as she herself is a huge crime fiction buff. There are very few other authors in this market (Jeffrey Siger is about the only one who comes to mind). In fact, she might be the one and only woman writing in this genre.
If you haven’t had the chance to pick up one of her novels, you MUST, YOU MUST. They are irresistible. And so what if they might be escapist after all? They make for wonderful easy reading while on a crystal clear secluded beach on one of those white-washed domed islands everyone is dying to flock to in the summer.
In an exclusive interview with www.greekamericangirl.com, Zouroudis gets her Greek on and speaks candidly about the allure of Hellas in fact and fiction.
Perhaps you can speak about the allure of the Greek a bit more. What is the mystery, what is the passion that we find in Greece that does not exist in places like the US or the UK? Can you put your finger on it? Could there be something behind this your conscious choice to set your novels that deal with the extreme mysteries of the heart in Greek isles? How much of Greece in your novels is true to life and how much romantic convention?
As far as the Greek aspects of my books are concerned, I write what I see, the good and the not so good. I think as a foreigner I see more, because what’s every day to the indigenous population is unique and interesting to me. You’re probably aware that outside the urban areas, women in Greece still have a pretty tough life. Certainly my life was tough when I was living there, and I recently spent five weeks in a mountain village in Crete, where I was amazed to find life has barely moved on at all, and there’s very little sign of it being 2014 in those remote places.
About the culture shift, going from Brit to Greek–
I found it hard to go from being an independent woman with a responsible job to being a second-class citizen whose function was to cook, clean and have babies – I don’t mean to denigrate Greece in any way, but that Mediterranean mindset (it’s the same in Italy, and all over the Middle East, of course) does prevail in some areas. I’ve seen on your website the Putana/Parthena debate, so I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about! But at the same time Greece and the Greeks have such soul, depths of character so often missing these days in the bland English certainly – Greeks have a huge passion for life, and I love that. I feel in my soul I’m Greek (a previous life, maybe?) and I’m much more at home there than I am here in the UK.
About her love affair with handsome Greek men and the Greek islands–
So many of the women I know who’ve ended up in the arms of Greek islanders are bright and educated, and they are the ones who are moths to the flames of men who don’t read and would never go near a theatre – yet their relationships often last (more often than you might expect). I think it’s that the men have soul – an attachment to earth (in the sense of Gaia), a ‘wild man’ quality which women do respect. I think a woman feels safe on a primal level with a man who can literally put food on the table rather than buying her dinner without having a clue how to prepare it. And what’s more romantic than cooking fish you’ve caught over an open fire? Nothing!
I think that connection we make with the men, we make with the country too. Greece hasn’t (yet) fallen into the corporate trap – here in the UK every high street, every mall is the same now, homogenised shopping and an illusion of consumer choice – it’s like living in Soviet Russia. But Greece has kept its identity, and fights for it fiercely – the Greek soul burns brightly wherever you look. And let’s not forget the allure of beauty – like in the myth of Narcissus, beauty is dangerously seductive and addictive, and where is more beautiful than Greece? We Brits crave the sun and the blueness and the light I think – when I first found it I thought I had found heaven, and I still think that (with caveats) to this day.
About finding her voice–
So I found my voice when I came to write the books because I had found something I was truly passionate about – beauty and soul, in the country and in the man. And of course in the magic of the myths (you’ll find a whole lot of mythology hidden between the covers of my books…).
Thanks Anne for your wonderful insights!
You can read more about Zouridi at her own website, www.annezouridi.com and can purchase copies of her novels at Amazon.