Anne Zouroudi is in love with Greece — which is not entirely surprising, as many people over the years have be smitten by that Mediterranean land. But unlike most people, who are simply content to enjoy the sun and warmth of the people there, when Zouroudi wandered that land of gods, she found something else: Her muse, and a messenger. Zouroudi is here how to explain how both showed up in her novel, The Messenger of Athens.
My Big Idea was audacious: I wanted to fuse genres, mix it up, and boldly introduce the myths of ancient Greece into the world of modern crime fiction.
Greece and I were always destined to be partners in crime. I remember, as a child, skimming through a leather-bound volume of the myths my grandmother had received as a school prize, searching for the illustrations to the fabulous stories – Narcissus mesmerised by his own image, the bull-headed Minotaur with the gnawed bones of Athens’s youth scattered round his feet. From there I moved on, to Robert Graves and Agatha Christie, and somewhere between their pages, the idea for my fusion was surely born. Later, I read Jung, and his theory of archetypes, and the relevance of gods and heroes in our times.
And then came the most pivotal event of my life. I travelled to Greece.
To say I fell head-over-heels in love with the country is vastly understating the case. It went much deeper than romantic infatuation. I felt I had gone home – and I still feel, now, that my birth as a citizen of the cold, grey British Isles was some ghastly error, that my soul has always been as Greek as Zorba’s ever was.
I’m far from alone in my ethnic dysphoria. The same condition affected none other than Lord Byron, the poet and quintessential English gentleman, who felt it deeply enough to fight for Greece in her war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. He died in Greece, at Messolonghi, in 1824, and is still honoured there today for his contribution to the struggle, with a district of Athens – Vyronas – named after him.
Since Byron’s days, northern Europeans have migrated to Greece in droves, and I became one of those migrants. In my view, whilst the beauty of the country is captivating, it’s not so much her physical attributes that enthral, but Greece’s almost tangible spirit. Like me, travellers hear Pan’s pipes still playing across the hills, and succumb to the timeless magic. The spell is cast, and home can never be the same again.
So naturally I set The Messenger of Athens in my beloved islands, and the fictional island I created became an essential part of the book, a character in its own right. But at the heart of my Big Question was a dilemma: how could I strike out on this new, somewhat risky, path, without alienating the crime fans I wanted to win over as my readers, as readers I wanted to love my books?
The answer was two-fold. Firstly, I worked hard to develop the book’s most essential feature (the beating heart, in fact, of all crime fiction) – a mystery which intrigues. Secondly, I employed subtlety. Whilst there’s definitely something unusual about Hermes Diaktoros (known as the fat man), a word to the wise is sufficient. If you want to read The Messenger of Athens as a ‘straight’ crime novel, so be it; forget mythology, and take Hermes as a regular guy of no fixed abode, who steps in where the law has failed to deliver justice. But if you don’t mind your whodunit not being rooted in procedural realism, I invite you to remember I am under the spell of Greece, that I write fiction, and that the worlds we create in fiction are without boundaries.
And perhaps the boundaries of crime are the broadest of all genres. Sub-genres are myriad – noir and nasty, cosy and cerebral. Where do I lie on the spectrum? I’d put myself somewhere between An Inspector Calls and Agatha Christie, between Donna Leon and Frommer’s Guide to Greece.
So let’s just say that, led by the Messenger, I’ve wandered a little away from the mainstream path. And of course, you’re most welcome to follow Hermes too, if you will.