Ashes by Sergios Gakas: Top Five Reasons to Read
Ashes by Sergios Gakas, a moreish slice of Greek noir, is about to go to press. It’s a crime novel that really breaks the mould, revolving around love and thwarted passions as much as around murder, vice and corruption. When Sonia Varika, a retired, alcoholic actress, is pulled out of a house fire, badly burned and just barely alive, two of her ex-lovers are shocked to see her picture on the T.V. news. Chronis Halkidis is the Head of Internal Affairs for the Hellenic Police; Simeon Piertzovanis is a lawyer gone to seed, a lush, and the owner of the gutted property.
Initially suspicious of one another, haunted by their respective affairs with Ms Varika, they gradually learn to work together to discover the truth behind the blaze, one that a great many people, going all the way to the top, have a vested interest in keeping secret. Fuelled by their need for revenge, and by their twin addictions to alcohol and cocaine, Piertzovanis and Halkidis must resort increasingly to violence if they are to unmask a conspiracy that unites church and state against the interests of justice. In no particular order, here are the five top reasons why Ashes should instantly rise to the top of any crime aficionado’s to-read list:
- Since 2008 Greece has been crippled by violent civil strife and a deficit that puts even ours in the shade. The events of Ashes take place a couple of years before the Lehmann Brothers’ collapse sent the world economy into freefall, but the wholesale corruption and cynicism that is everywhere in evidence suggest that clouds may have already been on the horizon before recession started to bite.
- Sergios Gakas studied drama in Paris and went on to work as a director. His theatrical experience can clearly be traced in Ashes as the dialogue is absolutely razor-sharp throughout, witty, irreverent and allusive. The constant banter and sniping between the two protagonists is particularly entertaining.
- The two doomed love affairs with the same strong but self-destructive woman lend this crime novel rare and genuine emotional resonance. A classic noir thriller, Ashes is unflinching in its examination of the violence and extortion bred by corruption, but at the same time tender in its treatment of human weakness, of guilt, addiction, nostalgia, regret. You’re guaranteed to shed a tear when you turn the final page.
- When Halkidis realizes what he’s up against, that his investigation is being shackled from within the force, he falls back on old vices to stiffen the sinews for what is to come. In a unique and intriguing twist on the genre his sleuthing is fulled by cocaine: every so often he ducks out to snort a line of his little white friend. But as the case and the novel progresses, he begins to fall apart before he reader’s eyes, his methods and decisions clearly influenced by the application of chemical compresses. Piertzovanis, for his part, continues to drink himself to death, but as he comments to Halkidis, at least it’s legal.
- Having read Ashes three or four times now, I can assure you that this is one crime novel that really rewards repeated attention, one that jealously guards its subtleties and secrets and proves a richer, more enjoyable yarn every time it is revisited.
Ashes is translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife and publishes in July