The White Sea
After the devastating end to The Black Life – trust me, I didn’t enjoy writing it but an unrelenting dynamic developed – missing persons specialist Alex Mavros’s life has moved on five years. 2010 was the year that the financial crisis first hit the Greek economy hard and the novel reflects that: by dealing with the kidnapping of a billionaire ship-owner. Ironic? I should say so. Kostas Gatsos sees himself as the last of the great pirates, in the tradition of Onassis, Niarchos and Latsis. His problem is that his kidnappers see him as guilty of a string of terrible crimes.
Mavros is in trouble from the start. A month has passed and no ransom demand has been received. He’s initially dubious about taking the job, but the large remuneration on offer convinces him. The uneasy feeling that he’s enriching himself at a time of general impoverishment is never far away. Aided and abetted by his obstreperous friend, the Fat Man, who experiences a remarkable development in his hitherto non-existent love life, Mavros comes up against the members of Gatsos’s feuding family, a pair of brutal Russian drug smugglers, and ghosts from his past. He also meets a stunning Colombian businesswoman, who may or may not be a spy for the shadowy group behind the ship-owner’s disappearance. As ever, who can he trust and who must he make a stand against? And what Mavros doesn’t know is that the killer who’s been stalking him for years is finally ready to pounce…
The climax takes place on the island of Lesbos, famed for Sappho and her modern followers, ouzo and Genovese fortresses. Kostas Gatsos was taken from his villa there. Is it possible that he’s still on the island? Meanwhile, a victim of the dictatorship’s torturers makes the long journey from Australia to Lesbos. What connects him to the case and to Mavros? And is it too much to hope that there might be a happy ending involving the investigator and the beautiful Colombian?
As they say, read on…
Background: for my sins – I wish I knew what they were – I worked in shipping in London, Antwerp and Piraeus. Admittedly that was in another life; pre-writing, pre-kids, pre-cancer. In fact, I don’t know how I coped as it’s a very hard-nosed business. Presumably my nasal member was much less soft than it is now. I met some Greek ship-owners. I didn’t like them. The fact that the Greek government gives them every tax break under the sun, moon and stars doesn’t make me feel any more favourable towards them. Still, I did get one life-changing experience out of shipping. In the 80s I worked for the American company US Lines, at the time one of the biggest container lines in the world. The company ethos was macho in the extreme, big swinging anchors and the like – oh, and you had to wear white shirts. Being at heart an anarchist, I didn’t get on well with a lot of the bosses so I was sent to Antwerp to run the office there. And then the company, anchors and all, went spectacularly bankrupt. I had to brief my twenty-eight staff about it – the standard ‘Clear your desk and hand in your company car keys in the next half hour’. I was politely told that they were going to occupy the office. Good for them. In a few weeks they all had better jobs and I was on my way to Greece to become an author - or so I grandly thought. Ten years later, I finally made it. I still don’t like ship-owners, though.
||published August 2013