Home > 2010, 21st Century, Beach and Public Transports Books, Crime Fiction, Greek Literature, Markaris Petros, Polar, State of the Nation > Termination by Petros Markaris – the trilogy about the Greek crisis

Termination by Petros Markaris – the trilogy about the Greek crisis

Termination by Petros Markaris. (2011) French title: Le Justicier d’Athènes. Translated by Michel Volkovitch.

As far as I know, Le Justicier d’Athènes by Petros Markaris is not available in English. According to Wikipedia, the original Greek title of this book is Peraíosi, a word that Googles translate into Termination. I don’t know what the English title of this book would be, so we’ll use Termination. The French publisher chose to entitle it Athens’s Righter of Wrongs.

Termination belongs to the Kostas Haritos crime fiction series, and within this series, it is included in a trilogy about the 2010 Greek financial crisis. Each book exposes one angle of the Greek collapse. The first one, Liquidations à la Grecque (Overdue Loans), is about the banking system. The second one, Le Justicier d’Athènes (Termination) is about tax collection. The third one Pain, Education, Liberté (Bread, Education and Freedom) is about politics. There’s a conclusion in Epilogue meurtrier, a book I haven’t read yet.

So Termination is about taxes: Haritos has to investigate a murder and attempted murders of rich people who maneuvered to escape taxes or simply don’t pay them. And the Greek administration doesn’t put a lot of energy into recovering the money. We’ve all heard about that in the newspapers. Markaris imagines a murderer who threatens tax evaders and does not hesitate to kill if they don’t pay their bill to the Greek State. He substitutes himself to the tax administration agents and has his own way to collect the cash.

The plot is interesting and the reader does want to know who set up this unorthodox recovery agency but the most important part of the book isn’t there. Once again, crime fiction is a window to a country’s backyard.

Termination, like the Ikonòmou I read recently, pictures the despair and the struggles of the Greek people. The book opens on a triple suicide: three old ladies took their own lives because they didn’t have enough money to survive and didn’t want to burden their families. There will be two other deaths like this, people committing suicide because they had lost faith in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if Markaris had picked these stories in the newspapers.

In Haritos’s family, the daughter Katerina is seriously contemplating to leave her husband behind and go abroad to find a job. She’s a lawyer and her husband Pharis is a doctor in one of Athens’ public hospitals. They don’t have any children yet but he doesn’t earn enough money to support them both and she can’t find a paid job in her field in Greece. Their parents help them with the groceries, and, like in the Ikonòmou, we see that the family unit is tightknit and people help each other.

Yound people start emigrating again and it depresses Haritos as it reminds him of old days:

« Nous voilà revenus au temps de l’émigration. » me dis-je. L’homme partait d’abord en Allemagne, trouvait du boulot, s’installait puis faisait venir sa femme. Les enfants restaient avec les grands-parents. Et avant cette époque des Gastarbeiter, même chose. L’homme s’exilait en Amérique et en Australie, puis sa famille le rejoignait. Dans le cas de Katerina, c’est la femme qui s’exile mais peu importe. Ce qui compte, c’est que nous sommes revenus au point de départ. Nous faisons un bout de chemin, et après quelques années, tout repart de zéro. Nous n’arrivons jamais à garder le terrain gagné. Nous faisons toujours marche arrière et ça recommence. Heureusement, Phanis et Katerina n’ont pas d’enfants, que nous aurions eu à élever. On se console comme on peut. “We are back to the emigration days”

The man left for Germany first, found a job, settled there and made his wife come to. The children stayed behind with the grandparents. And before this time of Gastarbeiter, same thing. The man would exile himself in America and Australia and his family would join him there. In Katerina’s case, it is the wife who exiles herself but whatever. What matters is that we are back to square one. We move forward and after a few years, things start over again. We never manage to hold on what whatever progress we’ve made. We always go back and start all over again. Fortunately, Katerina and Phanis don’t have any children, that we would have had to raise. You got to find solace where you can.

Sobering.

Markaris portrays a country where politicians are corrupt and let influential people “forget” about their tax obligations, where tax evasion is a national sport for the rich and where the tax administration turns a blind eye to overdue taxes or false declarations. I don’t know the details about the Greek-EU crisis –I heard there’s a good film about it, Adults in the Room by Costa Gavras—but Markaris gives a good idea of its effects on common people.

Now, despite its dark topics, Termination isn’t grim, thanks to Markaris’s sense of humor. Athens is still a giant traffic jam, most of the time and Haritos spends hours maneuvering his SEAT on its busy streets. Athens is also the theatre of constant demonstrations, people protesting against the hardship. Here’s a funny scene from the book:

Quand nous approchons de l’avenue Patission, la circulation reprend, accompagnée d’une clameur venant de Polytechnique. En débouchant sur la place Omonia, on croit quitter le désert du Sahara pour la forêt amazonienne. Les voitures tournent en rond, klaxonnent frénétiquement, les conducteurs cherchent désespérément une sortir. Au centre de la place, des touristes en rade avec leurs bagages contemplent le chaos, terrifiés. Ils ne comprennent visiblement pas comment, partis pour les Cyclades, ils ont atterri dans cette jungle.

– Des Allemands, sans doute.

– Comment le sais-tu ?

– Les Français et les Italiens sont plus habitués. Les Allemands sont tout de suite perdus. Ils croient qu’on va les bouffer. Ils n’ont pas compris que nous autres, nous ne bouffons pas les étrangers. Nous nous bouffons entre nous.

When we reach Patission avenue, the traffic resumes, along with a clamor coming from Polytechnic. When you arrived on plaza Omonia, you’d think you’d just left the Sahara Desert to enter the Amazonian forest. The cars were going in circles, honking their horn at anyone, the drivers desperately looking for a way out. In the middle of the plaza, tourists left there with their luggage are contemplating the chaos, terrified. They really don’t understand how they ended up in this jungle on their way to the Cyclades.

– Germans, without any doubt.

– How do you know?

– The French and the Italians are used to it. The Germans always feel lost. They believe we’re going to eat them. They haven’t understood that us Greek don’t eat foreigners. We eat each other.

Don’t we French know everything about strikes, demonstrations and street chaos!

It is a pity that Termination isn’t available in English. It’s not an outstanding book as far as crime fiction technique is concerned but it’s a good alliance between a crime plot and social criticism, which is also why I enjoy reading crime fiction.

Recommended.

  1. March 4, 2020 at 10:10 am

    Interesting idea for a plot but like you it would be the way the book takes us behind the headlines of the financial crisis that would interest me most. We tend to forget when we see those newspaper stories of the risks that there are real people impacted

    Like

    • March 4, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      That’s what I like most about crime fiction: the authors of the genre seem to have a greater freedom (or willingness, I don’t know) to take us into back alleys.
      Like you, I like it when books bring me back to the essence of things behind headlines and statistics: the humans who live through whatever the newspaper is about.

      Like

  2. March 4, 2020 at 10:24 am

    We in Australia welcome our migrants (after we’ve had time to get used to them), and particularly, well established ones like the Greeks – where would we be without Greek and Italian food! But I think we often forget that many of them would rather be ‘home’. That Australia for all its beaches and (former) prosperity is ‘exile’.
    It makes me so angry when governments let ordinary people down. It’s so unnecessary, but of course governments prefer to help the rich, that’s where the directorships are that put the cream on their own retirement.

    Like

    • March 4, 2020 at 10:45 pm

      I’m not sure about the “welcome migrants” statement these days. Aren’t there migrants kept on islands at the moment? (not that France can be proud of how refugees were welcome these last years)

      That said, I agree with you. When you live in a country that attracts migrants, you tend to see them as foreigners, see how they adapt and learn the language…You never think about how hard it must have been to make the decision to leave one’s home and country to start over somewhere else.

      I share your indignation about how ordinary people are always the ones who suffer the most in times of crisis.
      And at the same time, the collective body of a democratic nation is partially responsible for what happens: they voted for these governments. You know, the ones who never fought to recover taxes in Greece, those who didn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol in Australia, these others who repeatedly refuse to vote bills for a decent social security system in America, the ones ones who put their heads in the sand about retirement schemes in France, the ones who dismantled unions in the UK, etc. etc. etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. March 4, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Two earlier books by Petros Markaris (also featuring the same detective) have been translated into English, but they probably did not do so well (this was before the crisis in Greece) and so no more got translated. I actually met Markaris at the very first Quais du Polar I attended and really enjoyed hearing him talk about this trilogy (which at the time was not yet a trilogy). He really is a good social commentator – and those are exactly the kind of books that I hope Corylus Books will be able to bring to the English-speaking public.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 4, 2020 at 10:48 pm

      I found these two older novels on Goodreads, one of the places I look for translations of non-English books. I imagine that they were not successful enough for the subsequent tomes to be translated.
      I wish Markaris came to Quais du Polar again, but he’s 83, I’m not sure he still has the energy for that.

      Now you need to find a translator to translate this from the Greek. (you don’t speak Greek, do you?)

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 5, 2020 at 1:12 pm

        Yes, our Romanian partner (I’m kind of half-Romanian/half-British) has a partnership with a Greek publisher and translator, as they’ve been publishing each other’s books, so I’m hopeful…

        Like

        • March 7, 2020 at 5:22 pm

          That’s great news! I hope you’ll make it.

          Like

  4. March 4, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Just read Marina’s comment. I looked on Amazon and couldn’t see anything in English so they must have sunk. They sound like the sort of thing Bitter Lemon might publish.

    Like

    • March 4, 2020 at 10:49 pm

      It’s a pity they’re not translated, mostly for the social commentary which is eye-opening. For the crime fiction plot side, it’s not such a big loss.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Vishy
    March 5, 2020 at 4:32 am

    Looks like a wonderful book, Emma! Crime fiction which offers social commentary is fascinating! Petros Markaris – will keep an eye for his books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    • March 7, 2020 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks for your message, Vishy. I hope that Marina Sofia will manage to have it translated into English. Fingers crossed !

      Like

      • Vishy
        March 8, 2020 at 3:45 pm

        Whoohoo! That will be wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. March 7, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    It’s such a shame the trilogy isn’t available, I’ll keep an eye out in charity shops, maybe I can pick up the copies Marina Sofia mentions secondhand The social commentary of these sounds really appealing.

    Like

    • March 7, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      I think that his earlier books have been translated, you mind find them in charity shops.
      Unfortunately this trilogy hasn’t been translated but maybe it will through Marina Sofia’s publishing adventures.

      Liked by 1 person

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