Gakas, Sergios - 'Ashes' (translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife)
ASHES, a very dark and depressing tale, is set in Athens just prior to the 2004 Olympic games. There is a suspicious house fire and three people are killed but one, Sonia Varika, a famous actress, is pulled out alive, burnt almost beyond recognition. Both the owner of the house, Simeon Piertzovanis, and Police Colonel Chronis Halkidis, who takes it upon himself to solve the case, are former lovers of Varika. They are both still deeply emotionally attached to her and struggle with their thoughts and memories of their relationships with her, as well as with having to find out who has committed this awful crime.
Both men are heavy drinkers and Halkidis also has a coke addiction that sees him running into the Gents frequently for his fix, even while at work. It is the despair and hopelessness surrounding these two men that makes the book particularly dark, as they both feel lost with Sonia so badly hurt. As they dig deeper, and find the perpetrators of the arson, the novel becomes even more shocking. It takes a 'no-holds-barred' approach and hits you with the full extent of the corruption and violence that was evident in Greece at that time. Interestingly, though, ASHES also deals sensitively with the issue of human emotions and weaknesses, especially when people are at their most vulnerable.
To be totally honest, it wasn't until I burst into tears at the end of this book that I realized quite how brilliant it actually is. Maybe that isn't much of a recommendation but I was stunned and shocked at the end and overcome with emotion, after stumbling along through the rest of it and finding it rather hard to engage with. I couldn't find separate voices for the two main characters and confused them with each other frequently - meaning I was confused a lot as the book is mostly reflections by one or the other of these characters! I put that down to it maybe being translated but when I finally figured it out, I am extremely glad that I read the book!
Despite admitting to my struggle with ASHES, I came to admire and appreciate it by the time I had finished, so would present it to you as Highly Recommended.
Read another review of ASHES.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.