My Blog List

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Review: Ashes, Sergios Gakas (Greece)

Title: Ashes
Author: Sergios Gakas
Translator: Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Publication: 2011/MacLehose Press (Quercus), Great Britain
Original Publication: 2007/ Kastaniotis Editions S.A., Athens (“ Στάχτες”)
ISBN #: 978-0-85705-016-8
# of pages: 309
Discovered via a blog review….but my notes on which one are incomplete!
Read in paper format
Also available in e-book format

Chronis Halkidis is a joint-smoking, cocaine-snorting alcoholic police colonel in Athens who somehow manages to effectively head up the Internal Affairs department of the national Hellenic Police. His devoted team follows his lead when he takes on an arson investigation which is well outside his mandate.

An African refugee, her young daughter and an old actor died in the fire and a famous Greek actress was severely burned. Chronis was drawn to the case when he learned the actress is a former lover, Sonia Varika. The first complication in the case is another of the actress’s lovers, Simeon Piertzovanis, the landlord and early suspect.  Soon, Halkidis and Piertzonvanis are rather reluctantly working together to shift through the web of corruption and discover the truth. The action heats up when even Halkidis’s normally supportive boss tells him to drop the case.
The story is told alternately by Halkidis and Piertzonvanis, with some commentary from Sonia, a writing method that works surprisingly well. Both men are interesting characters, with major weaknesses they keep rising above. It is fascinating to watch the growing rapport between the rivals, one that doesn’t quite become a friendship. Hearing Sonia’s voice, remembered by the men and in her current state, reveals a siren who easily draws lovers to her and just as easily sheds them. Halkidis’s torment at being continually thwarted is mirrored by his growing reliance on cocaine.

The story is dark, revealing the seediest side of powerful people and the lengths to which one must go to have any chance of beating them at their own game. At a time when Greece is in crisis, this book sets the atmosphere of a struggling city and country, set adrift by self-interested power brokers. Despite the shortcomings of Halkidis and Piertzonvanis, you can’t help but admire their determination to continue to the bitter end.                     Rating: (^_°)  Intriguing

Notable sentence:  by Halkidis: “I stopped him, apologizing meekly, explaining away my outburst as a consequence of exhaustion. I did not think it wise to explain that coke sometimes made me oversensitive.”
The author is a Greek playwright and director. It was difficult to find any further information about him and there do not seem to be any other English translations of his books.


  1. I lived in Athens for 4 years and my local bakery features in this book. It's the only one that has been translated into English I'm afraid.

  2. That must have added a special feeling when you were reading the book, Sarah! Hopefully, more will be translated over time.

  3. I think Gakas and Markaris are almost single-handedly creating a Greek noir genre - which seems very foreign to a people more naturally akin to Zorba's philosophy, but is perhaps not surprising given the current economic crisis. They are both first-class at portraying the corruption, ethical uncertainties and sheer hopelessness of current Greek society.
    I wrote a review of Ashes myself, if you want to have a look at it.
    And I wish my Greek were good enough to read more of these authors, as sadly, neither of them have been much translated into English.

    1. Really enjoyed your review, Marina! Especially liked your comment about not judging by Anglo-Saxon standards because I struggled with that a bit. And thanks for introducing me to a new author (Markaris)!