I have that English love of Greece. Coming from chilly Yorkshire, the idea of bathing in the sea, then spending a warm summer evening eating moussaka washed down with cheap retsina is simply magical. Especially now, when the highlight of my month had been driving two miles through the slush to the local garage to have my Jeep serviced. I would happily trade bleak hills and dead trees for whitewashed buildings, a bloke riding past on a donkey, and an old priest in black glancing at me suspiciously because it is my way that is alien, not his. Cliché Greece probably, tourist-brochure Greece certainly, but I would be there in a heartbeat.
For an archaeologist there is also the glory that was Greece; the myths, the history and the ruins. I’ve visited the mainland and the islands many times and driven past ancient sites that would be major tourist attractions in England, but in Greece might barely deserve a peeling sign or rusting perimeter fence. I want to go back, right now.
When I first visited the island of Zakynthos in 1982, it was still a sleepy backwater with very few high-rise buildings and Greek men still used donkeys or mended their fishing nets by the shore or sat playing backgammon outside a sleepy kafeterion even when not posing for tourist brochures. It had that charm of being distinct and not just the same as everywhere else in Europe. I wanted to visit the Argolid, that peninsula that links the mainland with the Peloponesse, for the ruins of Mycenae and Tiryns but did not manage to get there until after Byron’s Shadow was published. This meant I was on fresh ground for much of the research needed for the novel, which added to the fun of writing. Maps, guidebooks and postcards littered my workspace and I explored and enjoyed Greece anew from my garret in the roof of the house as rain beat down.
Byron was intended to be Dr Jeffrey Flint’s first adventure, a double timeline story of a historic mystery and Flint’s later investigation. I came to a screeching halt two-thirds of the way through, and the publisher did not want the historic plot to unwind in real time, so I set it aside in favour of Darkness Rises. Byron became both sequel and prequel as the crime that triggers the plot is set in the early 1980s soon after Greece joined the EU and less than a decade after it emerged from rule by a military dictatorship. Flint is haunted by the murder on an excavation he witnessed as a student, so with his appetite for detective work awoken, he returns seven years later to re-open the case that local authorities want to keep closed. He also returns to find Lisa, the woman he began an affair with as a young man and has never forgotten. Putting her own freedom and livelihood at risk, Lisa pulls Flint out of the scrape he digs himself into and together they have more than one murder to investigate. The historic back story is still there, but now it must be revealed by Lisa and Flint.
Byron’s Shadow was originally published by Severn House in hardback and is now re-released as an ebook by Lume Books. The excavation which prompts the murder is in a hot, dusty valley in the Argolid where the ground is baked hard and yields its secrets reluctantly. The site is a minor Greek and Roman town of no particular importance, so what can be hidden there that was worth killing for? Layer upon layer of mystery must be uncovered before the truth becomes clear. And whilst Flint is hunting the secrets of the past, who is hunting him?