Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.
This is not a book to read on an empty stomach and certainly not one to read on a diet. As much a culinary safari as a crime tale, this feast makes you feel fat just reading it.
The multiple course meal starts with the arrival of Hermes Diaktoros (aka The Fat Man – no shocker when you read how much he puts away in a day) in the teensy community of Dendra, Greece. He is in his element – the food is delicious, the wine local and the feuds old and complex.
The murder – or is it? – at the beginning is appropriately gruesome with the just the right note of the comical. The hapless victim tumbles into a fire during the feast of the Archangel Michael when the good citizens of Dendra honour the saint by building massive kleftikos or open pits, on which animal flesh is supposed to cooked, rather than human.
The flavours of freshly prepared food and local wines predominate as the Fat Man engages with the locals and his long lost brother who can drink any vineyard dry just as his sibling can eat any café empty.
In between snacks (some of them four-course meals, Hermes discovers the community is as adept at scattering blame for events based on convenience rather than fact as they are at tossing together aubergines and olive oil to make perfect baba ganoush .
The author’s attention to detail allows us to enjoy the food, wine and conversation almost as if we joined the Fat Man. However maybe the author’s plan is to so divert our attention to the countryside, its products and the consequent gastronomic delights served up by the locals that the quiet observations indulged in by our fat man seem so relaxed and inconsequential that we can enjoy his visit as well as the work he is doing.
Beyond an errant brother our fat man arrives not with a suitcase full of personal problems but comes lightly laden with a joie de vivre and openness allowing the reader to walk alongside him as the facts unfold.
The finale has a refreshing focus on morality and fairness and actions that clarify responsibility and yet strengthen the community. This is a novel out of time – no sense that this is the Greece of today’s headlines suffering strikes and unemployment. But nor it is some half-hearted attempt to bring the Bacchanal myth up to date with too much bucolic whimsy.
A thoroughly enjoyable read that may just fill your day and leave you with a good feeling. One small addition that Zourudi helpfully provides is a lexicon at the front to help those of us readers with non-existent Greek. She has just a few pages of local terms but those are sufficient to allow us to enjoy the novel without calling on our bulky old Greek friend Mrs. Wikipedia. A nice, light touch for a nice, light book about a nice, fat and very wise detective.