When a small cottage owned by an alcoholic lawyer, Simeon Piertzovanis, is burned to the ground the only survivor is Sonia Varika, a former actress. She is badly burned and is rushed to an intensive care unit. The three victims are an elderly man, an African woman and her young daughter. Colonel Halkidis of internal affairs pulls in a favour to be assigned the case. A former lover of Varika, he's determined to bring the people responsible for the arson to justice. Halkidis soon discovers that the cottage has been targeted by a right wing group for some time. Teaming up with Piertzovanis, also one of Sonia's former lovers, they start to uncover the truth. However, their investigation is quickly blocked by powerful forces both within and outside the police. Rather than retreating, the pair decide to fight fire with fire, pursuing justice and revenge with deadly consequences.
Ashes is a fine slice of Greek noir. All of the principle characters and institutions are deeply flawed. Although in charge of internal affairs, Colonel Halkidis is addicted to cocaine and is prepared bend the law in savage ways, though he does so for justice not financial gain. Piertzovanis is an alcoholic and prone to depression and melancholy. Raina is cheating on her boyfriend. Sonia is vain and a lush. Just about all the other characters are corrupt or prepared to turn a blind eye. The police, the government, the Church and businesses are all riddled with taken-for-granted corruption and cronyism. The story is well plotted, though it does become a little unconvincing in the latter pages as Halkidis' revenge spirals out of control and goes unchallenged. The story is told in the first person from three perspectives - Halkidis and Piertzovanis in alternating chapters, and Sonia whilst in a coma. This works surprisingly well, with Gakas able to maintain three distinct voices whilst revealing what each thinks of the other, as well as fleshing out their back stories. Indeed, the characterisation is strong throughout. There is a good sense of place and as well as being a fine crime story, Ashes is a searing social commentary on the Greek society and its institutions. Having read the novel it is certainly much easier to understand the events in the country over the past couple of years. I thoroughly enjoyed Ashes and if any of Gakas' other books are translated I intend to give them a go. There's an interesting interview with the author on the publisher's website.