Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE SILVER STAIN by Paul Johnston

Crete is the setting for Paul Johnston’s 13th novel, THE SILVER STAIN, which sees Johnston’s Athens-based private eye Alex Mavros commissioned by a film producer, Luke Jannet, to find the personal assistant to the American movie star Cara Parks. A straightforward assignment, but Mavros quickly discovers that the events being depicted on the film set - the Nazi invasion of Crete in 1941 - have contemporary resonances that prove lethal.
  Two veterans of the 1941 invasion remain at loggerheads. Rudi Kersten was a German paratrooper who parachuted into Crete in during the invasion, and played his part - albeit reluctantly at times - in the subjugation of the islanders. The fact that the German occupation of Crete was marked by a number of atrocities means that feelings still run high over the events of 1941, and a shadow hangs over Kersten’s involvement in one of those atrocities, despite the fact that his guilt ensured that he returned to Crete long after the war and established the Heavenly Blue Resort, a luxurious hotel on the north coast that has provided investment and employment for Cretans for over 40 years.
  Few of Kersten’s Cretan contemporaries hold the German invasion against him personally, but the fact that the island is witnessing something of a neo-Nazi revival enrages his polar opposite, an ex-British Army officer who served during the defence of Crete, and who believes that Kersten has secrets to hide.
  This historical aspect to the novel is bound up in Mavros’s contemporary investigation when all roads lead to a remote village in the White Mountains, currently renowned as a haven for the drug-growing and smuggling extended family which lives there, but once something of a centre of Cretan resistance, when the andartes, or partisans, were prowling the mountains and sabotaging the German war machine.
  A Scottish author living in Greece, writing about a detective who is half-Scottish, half-Greek, Johnston employs an observer who is ideally placed to make an outsider’s caustic observations about modern Crete, yet knows the terrain well enough to give the setting a vividly authentic feel. In fact, the setting is one of this novel’s most attractive elements: despite being at the heart of European civilisation for the best part of four thousand years, Cretans retain something of a love-hate relationship with the notion of law-and-order, and especially any notion of laws laid down from beyond the shores of Crete.
  It’s worth pointing out that this novel is actually set in 2003, so that it doesn’t provide any real glimpse into the current economic woes and trauma besetting Greece. By the same token, there’s plenty here to suggest that the roots of Greece’s current predicament have very long roots, particularly when it comes to the locals’ laissez-faire attitude towards the rule of law.
  THE SILVER STAIN is a very enjoyable private eye novel in the classic mould, a lovely blend of pacy narrative, deadpan black humour and fascinating historical backdrop. - Declan Burke

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