A DEAD MAN IN ATHENS by Michael Pearce
There are some novels that one cannot read with our recourse to Google and Wikipedia unless one is a history buff. One of these is the mystery by Michael Pearce A DEAD MAN IN ATHENS My eyebrows first went up when I read the back cover where it began with the words `Athens, 1912 and the country is on the brink of war.' I felt like Colonel Klink! I know nothing!
As soon as I opened the book the story began talking about a sultan living in Greece. Again I knew nothing! How exciting this mystery was going to be. The war in question was the first Balkan war, which was to begin in the autumn of 1912. During the course of the Balkan wars the Balkan League that consisted of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece first conquered the Ottoman held Macedonia and most of Thrace and then fell out over division of the spoils.
The Sultan in question was Abdul Hamid II who was deposed and had come to live in Greece with some of his wives. He was slightly paranoid about assassination attempts. He had been deposed after the Young Turk revolution in or around 1908.
Sandor Seymour is possibly the only member of Scotland Yard's truly flying squad of the 1912's. Because of his facility with languages that he picked up on the East End in London so he gets sent to out lots of exotic locations to sort out political situations. In this particular case it appears that there has been the poisoning of a cat. The cat was the favorite of an exiled sultan but still! The British Embassy felt that this must be a precursor to the poisoning of the Sultan so had asked for help.
As Seymour begins to do his interviews he finds he has to do them in a harem speaking to shadows behind screens, through interpreters because even though he may speak the language he is not allowed to speak to the principals. It is heavy going. There is always a great deal of intrigue in a harem with here wives in this case jockeying for position, hidden prejudices, loyalties and secrets.
In his free time he meets people who are very taken with a new sensation, the new flying machine, the Bleriot Airplane. There is great discussion about its uses for adventure and even more debate about whether it can be useful in the upcoming war. Some say it is only good for reconnaissance, how safe it would be to be a pilot. Others say is that all it takes is two Greeks and that is all you need for a race! It is a toy.
One Greek recalls the story of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built wings so that man could fly. And he went up with his Icarus so that he could show them. But they went too near the sun and the wax holding the wings on melted. Icarus fell into the sea and was drowned. And Daedalus who had thought it all up landed safely.
But someone has sabotaged one of the three planes in Athens, and then a man is killed. Sandor Seymour has something more substantial to investigate. There is a tread that ties the death of the cat and the man together and Seymour will find it because aside from his facility with languages he tries to understand people as well.
I brought a lot away from this book apart from the mystery and that is why I choose Michael Pearce.
History + Mystery = Fiction + Satisfaction