The Invisible by Peter Papathanasiou

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Burnt-out from policework, Detective Sergeant George Manolis flies from Australia to Greece for a holiday. Recently divorced and mourning the death of his father, who emigrated from the turbulent Prespes region which straddles the borders of Greece, Albania and North Macedonia, Manolis hopes to reconnect with his roots and heritage.

However, in agreeing to lead an investigation into the disappearance of an ‘invisible’ – a local man who lives without a scrap of paperwork, Manolis fails to account for the jealousies of the local people. The police and some locals believe the man’s disappearance was pre-planned, while others suspect foul play. Reluctantly, Manolis agrees to work undercover to find the missing man, and must navigate the complicated relationships of a tiny village where grudges run deep.

Despite the assistance of the Albanian girl Roze and the sporadic assistance of the ‘touched’ Zain, it becomes clear to Manolis that he may never locate a man who, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. And with the clock ticking, the ghosts of the past continue to haunt the events of today as Manolis’s investigation leads him to uncover a dark and long-forgotten practice.

Papathanasiou adds considerably to the crime literature defined as Australian. He has his own individuality and represents a successful amalgam of Greek and Australian literature. The landscape of this part of Greece will never appeal to me – that is a personal thing and does not reflect on the author; Papathanasiou does draw imagery that is direct, strong, and sharply focused on the Greek countryside as one expects to imagine it. Manolis is welcome to this part of Greece and seems to thrive in that place. His creator tells ‘the tale of Manolis unsparingly, very much in synch with the spare environment’.

That a stranger should decide to operate undercover while carrying out a police operation stretches credibility to its limits. I was not surprised that a policeman ‘made’ George shortly after meeting him. I had expected that many others would have recognised his occupation, but nobody did.

The story is set in a country that no one visits and everyone wants to leave. The heat is pitiless. Papathanasiou conveys how the burning sun and the ensuing temperature infuse every interaction. The writing is vivid and atmospheric. The characters are superbly drawn and the plot, although weak in parts, delivers a smart sense of place. Mention should be made of the Greek Orthodox priest who appears to be as good as his community deserves.

The uglier sides of the Greek character are explored. Papathanasiou doesn’t pull any punches as he takes a clear-eyed look at hypocrisies old and new and some of the ugly sides of modern life in an old country. Superstition is rife and closely allied with Romani culture. There is no love interest, no spark to unite the male and female leads. Yet the opportunity is there. The author simply makes the judgment that it is more appropriate to the story to leave it out.

What is important is that the book generates discussion among readers. There is already criticism of the tale’s ending. Some find it as deplorable as I do; others champion it as appropriate.

The Invisible

(2022)

By Peter Papathanasiou

Hachette

ISBN: 978-1-52942-443-0

$32.99; 320 pp

 

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