Koutsakis’ Athenian Blues (Greece), Stanley’s A Death in the Family (Botswana), Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (USA)

This week’s crime reading took in Greece, Botswana and America.

Pol Koutsakis, Athenian Blues, translated from Greek by Pol Koutsakis (Bitter Lemon Press, 2017)

Opening line: A few of them were kicking and screaming, but most of the immigrants followed orders, as the police shoved them out of the building.

Athenian Blues is Koutsakis’s debut crime novel and the first in his ‘Stratos Gazis’ series. Its main protagonist is a contract killer with a conscience, who is aided in his investigations by childhood friends Drag, a homicide cop, and Teri, a transgender sex worker. When Stratos is asked to carry out a hit by a beautiful Greek actress who promptly disappears, he and his friends are pulled into an increasingly baffling case.

This novel left me with mixed feelings. I enjoyed the first-person, private-eye narrative, which makes effective use of hard-boiled PI conventions, and the quirky depictions of Stratos and his friends. The novel also makes the most of its contemporary Athens setting, providing interesting insights into recent Greek political and economic crises. However, I found being asked to identify positively with a hitman a bit of a stretch. Stratos is given a moral legitimacy reminiscent of popular TV killer Dexter (he only bumps off those who truly deserve it), and his friends seem to have no problem accepting his profession, due to their past experiences and the social upheavals of the present. And everyone seems to end up in bed with everyone else *yawn* (I am clearly getting old). An entertaining summer read, as long as you don’t take it too seriously…

Michael Stanley, A Death in the Family (Orenda Books, 2016).

Opening line: Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu was enjoying his dream.

A Death in the Family is the fifth in the ‘Detective Kubu’ series, co-written by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Originally from South Africa, they decided to start writing after a trip to neighbouring Botswana, where Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series is of course also set. While the ‘Kubu’ series portrays Botswana in a warm light, it also paints a more nuanced (and decidedly less twee) picture of modern Botswana life than McCall Smith. In this novel, Kubu has to deal with his most distressing case yet – the murder of his own father Wilmon – and two other cases that highlight the potentially mixed effects of foreign mining investments. The plot is highly satisfying, the characters engagingly drawn, and readers come away with a rich understanding of Botswana’s history and culture – from traditional funeral rites to the role of the tribal kgotla. There’s a handy glossary of Setswana phrases included at the back of the novel as well.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (originally published 1953; Audible book narrated by Tim Robbins)

Opening line: It was a pleasure to burn.

I’m always looking out for audiobooks to accompany my knitting, and jumped at the chance to listen to Fahrenheit 451, an American classic I’d never read. Like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel: it depicts an American future in which books are viewed as subversive, and reading or owning them has become a criminal offence (everyone is plugged into mind-numbing, round-the-clock entertainment provided by state radio and TV instead). The task of firemen in this society is not to put out fires, but to burn books – which catch alight at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

The novel traces the evolution of Guy Montag, a fireman who is an unquestioning part of the system, following a chance encounter with Clarice McClellan, an intelligent, free-spirited teenager. Written in 1953, the novel is remarkably prescient, exploring the negative effects of advanced technology on social interaction, and asserts the fundamental right to question, challenge and advance ideas in literature and debate. There’s a highly charged murder in the novel as well, which has emboldened me to include it on the blog.

I can fully see why Fahrenheit 451 is regarded as a classic. The story is simply and sparely told, but communicates incredibly powerful ideas. If I’m not mistaken, Bradbury draws on one particular biblical story at the end (I won’t say which, as it would give too much away), and provides a chillingly realistic depiction of what it might be like to resist a repressive regime. There was only one moment where I felt the novel truly showed its age (again, slight spoiler; ask me to say more in the comments if you’re curious).

So how’s my TBR cull going? The scores on the doors are as follows:

Subtracted – 5

Added – 3

Progress of sorts…?

11 thoughts on “Koutsakis’ Athenian Blues (Greece), Stanley’s A Death in the Family (Botswana), Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (USA)

  1. So glad you enjoy the Kubu Bengu series as well as you do, Mrs. P. I think it’s fantastic. And, although I know what you mean about Fahrenheit 451 showing its age a tiny bit, I still think it’s a classic very well worth reading.

    • It’s actually the first one I’ve read in the series, Margot, so I’ll have the pleasure of catching up with the others. One aspect I really liked was that the other members of the police team are given quite significant roles. It’s a very effective police procedural.

    • Hi MarinaSofia – actually I thought the technological aspects were really done. There are no smartphones, as you say, but there are little ‘seashell’ listening devices, which sound a lot like our modern earbuds, and parlours whose walls are supersized TV screens. So it wasn’t that, but rather that all the books and plays the novel points to as repositories of great art/ideas are by men. Not a single one by a woman :-O

  2. I love your TBR pile image and I know how hard it is to bring down the numbers. I suspect the books in my TBR piles, shelves and boxes in the garage outnumber yours and I never make a dent.

    Your review of Athenian Blues was funny (“everyone seems to end up in bed with everyone else”) and brightened my day. And I might even try the book. I am glad to be reminded of the Detective Kubu series, which I need to read. I will be re-reading Fahrenheit 451 sometime soonish … it has been a long time and your review motivated me.

    • Hello Tracy – I’ve resigned myself to the fact of a generously sized TBR pile, but am still hoping to get it down a little bit (from totally-out-of-control to reasonably-in-control). The upside of course is that we will never lack for a wide choice of reading matter. Yay!

      Athenian Blues is definitely worth a read – and you can have some fun totting up the total number of *ahem* liaisons 🙂 Hope you enjoy…

  3. Morning Mrs P. Inroads have been made on my TBR list. Since the last count: 2 have been deleted, 3 read, and only 1 added. So it’s a start 😃.
    Athenian Blues sounds interesting, but like The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t. The here and now is enough to cope with at the moment…..

    • Ooh, well done! Slow and steady…

      I tend to have two reads on the go at the same time now – one serious, the other lighter – so that I can pick according to mood. Respite reading is essential when reality goes off the rails.

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