Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review of Jeffrey Siger's Target: Tinos

Target: Tinos by Jeffrey Siger

Do you save the best for last or eat it first? I tend to be a saver. I like to set aside some books I'm looking forward to reading in a stack called "compensation for loss, injury, or suffering." Then, I can salvage a bad day with a great nighttime read. Recently, a dinner concocted by my husband (don't ask) sent me reeling to this stack, where I grabbed Jeffrey Siger's Target: Tinos.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis is head of Greece's special crimes division, or, in other words, "Greece's number one cop for all things nasty." "Nasty" perfectly describes the murder of two men on the island of Tinos. Their bodies are found, along with tattered remnants of a Greek flag, chained together and burnt to a crisp, in the back of a van. In a cylinder chained to the steering wheel is a note: "Revenge or Death." This appears to be a variation of the Greek battle cry and motto, "Freedom or Death." Media coverage goes nuts. There are competent cops on Tinos, but Minister of Public Order Spiros Renatis, Andreas's boss, wants him to head the investigation.

Tinos, the fourth-largest island in the Aegean Cyclades, is largely undeveloped and has a full-time population of fewer than 9,000 people. It is home to nearly one thousand dovecotes and more than 750 churches and chapels. While Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches coexist on Tinos, the most revered religious shrine in Greece is the Church of the Annunciation (Panagia Evangelistria, meaning Our Lady of Good Tidings), which draws more than a million visitors and pilgrims every year. August 15 is the anniversary of the Virgin Mary's Annunciation, and Spiros wants nothing to mar the island's biggest celebration.

Interior of the Panagia Evangelistria, which contains a holy icon of the Virgin Mary called the Megalochari

In addition, Spiros is worried about Greece's position in the European Union. The country's financial problems are bad enough. Adversaries have described Greeks as too lazy, corrupt, and selfish to pay taxes. Of 11.5 million Greeks, 10 percent are immigrants, and, as in other countries, some citizens blame every lost job and criminal act on the immigrant population. If these homicide victims are immigrants, Greece's detractors could seize upon this crime as an excuse to further vilify their national character. Greeks could be attacked as callous, indifferent to the plight of non-Greeks. A bad outcome for Greece is the denial of bailout funds; a worse outcome is being drummed out of the European Union. This crime must be solved.

Because some pilgrims approach the Panagia Evangelistria
on their knees, red carpet has been laid to facilitate them.
When the two dead men are identified by their jewelry and DNA as tsigani (gypsies or roma), Spiros is relieved. He demands Andreas simply close the case. Tsigani revenge killings don't threaten the August 15th celebration or Greece's position in the European Union. The sooner people forget about this case, the better. To Andreas, this is further evidence that he and Spiros don't share the same planet. Andreas isn't the type to walk away from a murder investigation. He instructs his friends/colleagues, Detective Yianni Kouros from Athens and Tassos Stamatos, chief homicide investigator for the Cyclades, to get cracking. In six days time, Andreas is marrying Lila Vardi in the wedding of the social season on Mykonos. She will have his head on a platter if he isn't at the church in time. The complexity of this case makes Andreas's appearance not a slam dunk.

Tinos, scene of the crime, and Mykonos, site of the wedding, are islands in the Cyclades, southeast of Athens

Whereas Andreas is the son of a cop and grew up in a working-class family, his fiancée Lila, a young widow and art historian, comes from one of Greece's oldest and wealthiest families. I was worried when Andreas became involved with the lovely Lila in the second series book, Assassins of Athens. Too often in crime fiction, when a socially prominent character is tied to a working-class sleuth, the sleuth's boundless resources seem ridiculous. Or, the relationship has the whiff of romantic fantasy. My concern was misplaced. Lila's wealth means that Andreas won't count his pennies, but she is down-to-earth, feisty, and fun. Her position in society allows Siger to show us how upper-class Greeks live, in addition to those of lower income. Lila's relationship with Andreas, including their intimate moments, is very well done, and the traditions involved in their wedding are fascinating.

Bishop Germanos of Patras raises the Greek flag in 1821
and begins the fight for Greek independence
Andreas is a likable guy who's devoted to Lila and their young son Tassaki. He's an incorruptible cop. The crimes he tackles are engrossing; however, one reads Siger's books not only to see Andreas and his sidekicks solve a crime, but also to learn about Greek history, culture, and current issues. These elements are blended seamlessly into the plot. There is no doubt the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis books are set in Greece. Like Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva series set in Brazil, Siger's series is a thoughtful and intriguing look at a specific contemporary society.

This book is a wonderful read. A reader explores the island of Tinos, learns about its geography and history, and meets colorful characters, while Andreas tracks the murderer of the two young tsigani and prepares to formalize his ties to Lila. While it's not imperative to read the series in order (Murder in Mykonos, Assassins of Athens, Prey on Patmos, and Target: Tinos), it's satisfying to do that because the books form Andreas's continuing professional and personal story. They cover various topics and take place in different locations in Greece. I hope the future brings more details about the personal lives of Siger's secondary characters. I'm really looking forward to the next book, due in October 2013.

If you're a saver, put this one in your own "compensation" stack to be read when you deserve a treat. Or, if you're not a saver, read it now. I'm not the only one who thinks Target: Tinos is terrific; The New York Times critic Marilyn Stasio recommended it, and the Publishers Weekly reviewer gave it a starred review. I have every faith that you'll enjoy it, too.

Notes: We'll learn more about author Jeff Siger, who's lucky enough to live on Mykonos, in his upcoming Read Me Deadly interview.

I received a free review copy of Target: Tinos, published in June 2012 by Poisoned Pen Press.

Mykonos looks like paradise, doesn't it?

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