Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review of The Silver Stain by Paul Johnston (Creme de la Crime, 2012)

Athens based, private investigator Alex Mavros specializes in finding missing persons.  When the star of a Hollywood movie being filmed on the island of Crete refuses to continue playing her role until her missing assistant is found, Mavros is flown in to track her down.  The movie - Freedom or Death, about the invasion of Crete by elite German paratroopers in the Second World War - has stirred up bad memories, especially between an elderly English and former SOE agent and the German owner, and former paratrooper, of the hotel where the movie crew are staying.  The former accuses the latter of war crimes, yet the latter is well regarded having contributed millions to the local economy and preserving heritage, and the former lives in a lawless enclave in the hills.  As Mavros starts to investigate the woman’s disappearance he’s soon caught up in other local rivalries in the movie team, local politics, and criminal gangs, and also co-opted by the German hotel owner to recover some stolen ancient coins.  Within a couple of days, however, he has recovered the coins and the traumatised missing woman but at the cost of a deadly vendetta.  Moreover, he’s discovered that his own father played a pivotal role in the resistance against the German occupation, a role that has been falsely rewritten.

The Silver Stain uses the context of the making of a Hollywood movie about the past to examine both what happened then and its present day repercussions.  Johnston does an excellent job of keeping both the past and present in frame, using the tale to illustrate how the past is variously remembered, used and contested, and how its legacy continues to rumble on.  As such, the historical and political context and sense of place are particular strengths of the story, as is the characterisation.  There is a fairly large cast, but each actor is well penned and vivid, and Mavros is an engaging lead character as the wily detective.  The storyline itself is compelling, however, the plot strays towards being overly complex, with a large number of subplots, and it depends on an awful lot of coincidences to work.  Moreover, Mavros too often succeeds where the odds are stacked against him, which pushed the narrative towards Indiana Jones territory a little too often.  Whilst these plot devices create a lot of action and twists and turns, they also undermine the credibility of the story, particularly in the latter third.  Less, I feel, might have been more.  Nevertheless, The Silver Stain is an entertaining and enjoyable tale that rattles along at a fair clip.

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