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Overdue loans by Petros Markaris

February 23, 2016 15 comments

Liquidations à la grecque by Petros Markaris (2010) Not available in English, sadly. Orginal title: ληξιπρόθεσμα δανία which means, according to Google translate: Overdue loans.

Markaris_LiquidationsLiquidations à la grecque is the first opus of a crime fiction trilogy about the Greek financial crisis. This one is about the banking system. The second one, Le justicier d’Athènes, is about tax evasion. The last one, Pain, Education, Liberté is about the Greek elites. I didn’t read them in the right order and started last year with the third volume.

Liquidation à la grecque pictures the police officer Charitos and his family, his wife Adriani and his daughter Katerina. The novel opens to her wedding to Phanis, a physician who works at the local hospital. She’s out of law school and is job hunting. The wedding is a success but Charitos worries about the bill as the economic crisis settles in Greece. As a policeman, he’s on the State’s payroll and their bonuses are being cut. He’s really starting to worry about his finances.

Later, Charitos is called to a crime scene: a man, Zissimopoulos was beheaded with an antique sword. He was gardening in his house set in a quiet neighborhood, the murder seems to have been well prepared. The victim is the former director of the Greek Central Bank. He wasn’t really appreciated by his staff and Charitos soon discovers that he was involved in shady transactions. The murderer signed his crime with the letter D on the victim’s chest.

Charitos is convinced this is a common murder but his colleague Stathakos convinces their boss that it’s probably a terrorist attack. Another victim appears, same MO. Mr Robinson was a British citizen and the director of the Greek subsidiary of the First British Bank, a bank specialized in hedge funds.

For Charitos, it’s clear, the mysterious murderer is after the heads of the Greek banking system. Literally and figuratively.

We see Charitos navigate between his field work on the case and the delicate politics with his hierarchy, his colleagues and the press. Markaris uses crime fiction to tell about the Greek society and to analyze the current economic crisis. Sometimes we feel sorry for the Greek people as the collapse of their economy affects more the poor and not the elites who led them here. Sometimes we are irritated by their reactions to the measures asked by the EU when the said measures are only to stick by basic rules. Like complying to VAT laws in shops or collecting taxes properly.

It’s interesting to read about common people’s way-of-life. The traffic jam in Athens seems horrendous. I laughed at how not buying a German car was a political statement. Charitos settled for a SEAT, as it’s a Spanish brand and Southern Europe countries have to stick together. Only SEAT is owned by Volkswagen… I enjoyed Charitos’s casual descriptions of his wife’s cooking and the family dynamics. They have to adapt to their daughter being married. We also see how the situation deteriorates and how the people’s living conditions are affected. Athens is swamped by demonstrations. At some point, one of Charitos’s neighbors tries to kill himself because he’s ruined.

Liquidations à la grecque is not as good as Pain, Education, Liberté and I suspect that the author has a better understanding of the role played by the Greek elites in the catastrophe than in the workings of the financial system. Charitos is lost in the world of finance and the explanations he gets are rather light. Markaris is not at ease to explain speculative finance or maybe he didn’t want to go into too many details for the reader. In any case, the explanations sound a little vague…and a bit too light for my liking.

Despite this little flaw, I enjoyed Liquidations à la grecque and intend to read the other volume of the trilogy.

 

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