The Green Lady is the fifth in my series of private eye novels set in more-or-less contemporary Greece, featuring half Greek half Scot Alex Mavros. I say more-or-less since he was in hibernation for eight years and I’ve kept the timing as was, so the book is set in 2004. Which, as sports fans will instantly recall, was the year of the Athens Olympic Games. Two things. Only in Greece would the host country’s two major athletics stars fake a motorbike accident to account for missing a doping test (to be fair, they were thrown out of the team). And only in Greece could the cost of the games be so great that it became a significant part of the country’s long term debt crisis – that cost being hugely inflated by blatant profiteering on the part of companies involved in the construction of Olympic facilities and associated projects.
Oddly enough, I mention both these issues in The Green Lady. As the Games begin, Mavros is hired by a rich woman whose fourteen-year-old daughter, Lia, went missing three months earlier – supposedly she was moved to a school abroad. Why the secrecy? That’s only the start of Mavros’s problems. He’s forbidden from talking to anyone Lia knows. So how does he go about the investigation? By being devious and by enlisting his less than subtle friend, the Fat Man. The sleazy journalist Lambis Bitsos also shows up, chasing the story and tail, as usual.
I always start the planning of a novel with ideas. In an ‘ideal’ world, I’d be a
philosopher; then again, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any need for
philosophers so I’d be a sybarite. With The Green Lady (the title refers to the ancient goddess Demeter and not, as Val McDermid wondered, a district nurse), the ideas in question were financial corruption (admittedly a perennial theme in my writing), heavy industry and its effects on the environment and local population (bad, of course – pollution and cancer) and paedophilia. The heaviness is countered by the presence of the Fat Man throughout the book for the first time. Readers of the series will know that, as well as a belly, he has a mouth on him.
There are various ways to construct novels. Some writers make elaborate diagrams or lay out cards with character and plot motifs on them. Others produce lengthy synopses. And others (like me, at least in this case) play with myth and symbol. I’ve been fascinated by the Demeter and Persephone story since I was a kid. Like many Greek myths, it’s bittersweet. Demeter’s daughter is kidnapped and raped by Hades, god of the underworld. While she is absent from the surface of the earth, Demeter, goddess of fertility, goes on strike and humankind is in danger of starving to death (was that Hades’ cunning plan all along?). Inevitably, a compromise is found, but because Persephone ate some pomegranate seeds (the number is argued over by scholars and thus takes on extra significance in the novel) when she was in the underworld, she is condemned to return there every winter. So, we have child abuse (although it’s unclear how old Persephone was – girls in early cultures tended to be married off as soon as they became fertile); environmental issues (crops being affected by Demeter’s huff and/ or by industrial waste); and wealth (Hades was also known as Plouton, ‘The Rich One’, because gold and other valuable metals were found in the earth, his realm). There are also some contemporary people who believe in the Olympian gods – in reality and in The Green Lady. Neatly done, non?
Then again, ‘mak siccar’ (make sure), as Alistair MacLean often commanded.
To keep the plot charging forwards, I recalled a villain from The Golden Silence, the
third novel in the series. The Son was a torturer, but now he’s got even more pointy
objects in his arsenal. Most of them are aimed at Mavros by the end of The Green Lady…
So, if you care for a touch of eschatology (the washroom’s at the rear, madam), ancient myth, modern corruption and quivers full of quips, I suggest you get your hands on the said volume. And, no, it has nothing to do with that awful Tretchikoff painting. (You shouldn’t have mentioned that. Ed.) Sod it. We’re all going to hell in a dumper truck anyway and, in my not particularly humble opinion, we aren’t coming back…
Paul Johnston’s The Green Lady is published in hardback by Crème de la Crime. See www.paul-johnston.co.uk