When, on the very first page of Zone Defence an earthquake rocks the island where Inspector Haritos and his wife are holidaying, cracking walls and causing the house to ‘leap off its foundation’ as Haritos lies reading his Dimitrakos dictionary, it certainly brings our grumpy Greek protagonist’s singular eccentricity to the forefront.
I knew I wanted to explore Inspector Haritos’ ‘dictionary addiction’ even before I’d finished reading Deadline in Athens, the first of Petros Markaris’ Inspector Haritos mysteries to be translated to English, so discovering Haritos “perusing the entry under diatherizo… = spend the summer, break off, interrupt…etc” three sentences into this second book pleased me immensely.
It confirmed for me that writer Petros Markaris didn’t give his grumpy Greek detective a quirky hobby just to make him ‘interesting.’
So, why is Inspector Costas Haritos a dictionary addict?
Maybe I’m a bit quirky myself, but when I discover a protagonist who is intriguing enough to lead me though a series, I get a bit obsessive about trying to figure out how the writer makes me feel the way I do about his characters.
In noting all the instances in Deadline in Athens and Zone Defence where Inspector Haritos either searches out or stumbles upon a definition in one of his dictionaries, I felt that each definition fit one (or more) of these four catagories:
1. events from the past
2. family relationships
3. relationships with co-workers and superiors
4. the murder investigation
All contribute to our understanding of Inspector Costas Haritos.
As a bit of an intro to Inspector Harito’s dictionary addiction, in Chapter 3 of Deadline in Athens, Haritos arrives home after work and after a cranky exchange with his wife, who is engrossed in a TV ‘soap’…
As every evening, I sought refuge in the bedroom and took Dimitrakos’ Dictionary down from the bookcase. Bookcase! That was what we called it to make it sound grander than it was. In fact, it was only four shelves. On the upper shelf were all the dictionaries: Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon, Dimitrakos’ Dictionary of Modern Greek, Vostantzoglou’s Thesaurus, N.P. Andriotis’ Dictionary of Koine Greek and Tegopoulos-Fytrakis’ Modern Greek Dictionary. That was my only hobby—dictionaries. No football, no do-it-yourself, nothing. If anyone else were to glance at the bookcase, they’d get a shock. The upper shelf was full of dictionaries. It was impressive. Then you moved down to the lower shelves and it was all Viper, Nora, Bell, Harlequin and Bianca. In other words, I’d kept the penthouse for myself and left the three floors below for Adriani. On top a veneer of knowledge and underneath, degradation. A picture of Greece in four shelves.
Fairly cynical in his attitudes toward his wife Adriani’s tastes in reading and in the state of his country!
Oh, before I go on, I want to make up for an oversight – after signing off on my last post, I realized that though I gave you a brief plot intro for Deadline in Athens, it would have been more helpful to give you a link to this review on the Greek Works blog: Greek Noir by Apostolos Vasilakis
And since I’ll also refer to Markaris’ Zone Defence in this exploration, here’s a link to the review on International Noir Fiction blog
Inspector Haritos: Dictionary Addict – Events from the Past
In Deadline in Athens I found two instances where Costas Haritos refers to dictionary definitions prompting revelations about events from the past, in particular his childhood relationship with his father.
The first comes right after his description of his bedroom ‘library’…
I lay down on the bed with Dimitrakos. I opened it at the entry ‘see’. See = the power of sight. The mind sees and the mind hears is what my father used to say. Every night, half an hour before he’d come home, I’d open the books on the kitchen table and get down to studying to show him that I was doing my best. He’d come in wearing his sergeant’s uniform, stand in the doorway and stare at me. I’d make no sound. I was so immersed in my study that I failed to perceive his presence, as Dimitrakos might put it. He’d suddenly come up to me, grab hold of me by the ear and pull me from the chair.
‘Only four again in maths, you fathead,’ he’d say to me.
I’d have no idea. I’d find out the following day from the maths teacher. He’d always know from the day before.
“How do you know?’ I’d ask, in amazement.
Till one day I happened to be in his office in the gendarmerie, and then I understood that it wasn’t the mind that saw or heard, but that, quite simply, the telephone rang. My father had once done a favour for the maths teacher, helping him to get a hunting licence or some such thing, and the teacher would phone him as soon as he’d seen my exam sheet to tell him the mark as a way of repaying the debt. The strange thing is that most of the times I was sure that I’d done well, but all I ever got were fours and fives. But he’d stick an eight on my report so that my father would see it and be satisfied that the favour he’d done hadn’t gone to waste.
The second reference to a word evoking his past occurs in the midst of an uncomfortable interchange between Haritos and his wife, Adriani, and cleverly spans all four categories: events from the past, family relationships, relationships with co-workers and superiors, and the murder investigation:
I needed to relax but all I’d succeeded in doing was getting myself worked up. I reached for Dimitrakos again. I took hold of it clumsily and some pages got crumpled. As I tried to straighten them, my eye fell on the word sucker. I thought that it summed me up perfectly, and I began to read, to discover my roots. Sucker =fool, idiot, (si.) moron. Definitely. A fool for giving Adriani the thirty-five thousand and for letting myself be taken to task by her into the bargain. An idiot for wanting at all costs to find out why Karayoryi (a journalist raising uncomfortable questions about his current case) was dropping hints about kids when she had it all worked out already. And a moron for getting Thanassis (his subordinate) involved so that I could find out what I wanted. Being a sucker would be the least of my problems if Ghikas (his boss) were to find out about Thanassis. I’d be in the doghouse, no question. My father used to call me a whelp, though I didn’t know what it meant then and I didn’t dare ask, because whenever he used it, he was always furious with me. He’d have thought I was trying to be clever and he’d have hit me upside my head. It was the first word I looked up when I got hold of a dictionary. Whelp (n). = 1. a young offspring of certain animals, esp. of a wolf or dog. 2. disparaging; a young man or youth. 3. jocular; a young child. So, the young dog was heading for the doghouse. I wasn’t complaining. It was the way of the world.
An impressive paragraph encompassing so much, don’t you think? He does get down on himself.
Inspector Haritos: Dictionary Addict – Family Relationships
On reflection, I suppose the previous category ‘Events from the Past’ deals with family relationships, since so far all have referred to Haritos’ relationship with his father, but I do want to differentiate.
As to family relationships, Haritos and his wife Adriani have a not-uncommon long-married couple’s love-hate relationship, battling frequently, stonily ignoring one-another for weeks at a time, but ultimately bound by a deep affection that surpasses all else.
The one dictionary reference that struck me as very telling in regard to Haritos’ relationship with his wife Adriani revolves around the word ‘glamorous.’ It seems innocuous enough; home from work, Haritos has retreated to the bedroom after being ignored by Adriani, stuck in one of her TV soaps. To spite her, he’s uttered some derogatory remarks about the TV characters, then kept his shoes on when lying on their bed. Adriani chastises him for this, and for his outspoken disdain for her TV programmes. She accuses him of being a ‘ragamuffin’ who doesn’t like anything ‘faintly glamorous.’
Haritos has no idea what ‘glamorous’ means; he searches his Oxford-Greek Learner’s Dictionary, the only English dictionary he has:
I searched for the entry ‘glamurous’ but found nothing. So I looked under ‘glamourus’ and again found nothing. The damned English write it using o and ou just to make life difficult. So, glamorous = possessing glamour, alluring and fascinating; beautiful and smart. Glamorous film stars. So that’s what she’d meant—that I don’t like what’s alluring and fascinating or, by inference, film stars who are alluring and fascinating, because I’m a ragamuffin. It’s taken you thirty years to switch from biscuits to croissants and she calls you a ragamuffin because you can’t stomach her stupid TV stars.
As if determined to learn the word and not be outdone by his supposedly less-literate wife, Haritos uses ‘glamorous’ twice more in its correct context before the end of the chapter, and the word comes up again in the second book, Zone Defence, when Haritos takes Adriani to an upscale restaurant owned by the victim whose murder he is investigating. Adriani describes the restaurant as ‘glamorous’ and Haritos comments:
“The first time she had used that word I hadn’t known what it meant and I had to look it up in the Oxford English-Greek Learner’s Dictionary, the only English-Greek dictionary I have. Now I know what it means: alluring and fascinating, beautiful and smart.”
One last dictionary definition for this catagory is ‘break’ which gives another perspective on Haritos’ feelings for his wife: Unwilling to take a break from the murder investigation in Deadline in Athens, Haritos sends his wife off to Thessaloniki to be with their daughter Katerina for Christmas, and later sits alone in front of the television.
I was trying to kill time watching a comedy on TV, one of those that gets you laughing for a week. I usually give them a wide berth, but it was the first night that I’d been alone in the house. It was one thing to have quarreled with your wife and not be speaking, and another to be all alone. The former was a game, a counter-lull, “calm, tranquility, serenity,” according to Dimitrakos. The latter was a killer, particularly when you’ve been married for twenty years and you have no life of your own. Not to mention that I’d been thinking how Adriani would be chatting away with Katerina, which had plunged me even deeper into despair. Such despair that I hadn’t even felt like opening a dictionary.
Inspector Haritos: Dictionary Addict – Relationships with Co-workers and Superiors
Two words: ‘profile’ and ‘flexible’
Haritos’ relationship with his immediate superior, Chief of Security, Nikolas Ghikas, is not an easy one. Haritos won’t flagrantly disregard Ghikas’ orders, though he isn’t averse to omitting pertinent details from his reports or continuing investigations that Ghikas has ordered closed.
The two seem to have an uneasy respect for one-another, though Haritos is aware that when push-comes-to-shove, Ghikas will do what’s in his own best interests.
As Chapter 17 begins, Haritos reports to his superior, Ghikas, who comments:
“The profile fits at any rate.”
It was the first time he’d come out with that word ‘profile’. I made a note to look it up later in the OED. It was nine-thirty in the morning and I was giving my report to Ghikas concerning Kolakoglou (a murder suspect). He guessed that I hadn’t understood ‘profile’ and was waiting to see how I’d react. But I was wise to what he’d meant—that Kolakoglou would do quite nicely for the murderer—and I immediately began listing everything that didn’t ring right.
Ghikas ends their conversation reminding Haritos to “make sure you find out what “profile” means. In a few years’ time, we’ll all be using it.”
Later, Haritos looks up ‘profile’ in his Oxford-Greek Learner’s Dictionary:
Produce . . . Profess . . . I was lying on the bed and looking up Ghikas’ ‘profile’ in the Oxford English-Greek Learner’s Dictionary. … There it was: Profile = 1. a side view, outline or representation of a human object, esp. of a human face or head. 2. a short biographical sketch of a subject. So that’s what he’d meant. We used to call it a description, now it had become a profile. The description of Kolakoglou (a suspect) fits the description of Karayoryi’s murderer. Plain language, so that we knew what we were talking about. But did it fit? Apart from the threat, which was nothing to do with his description, nothing else fitted.
Each time he uses the word, Haritos intimates that Ghikas would prefer to take the easy route and arrest this suspect for the murder, but Haritos doesn’t think the ‘profile’ fits. Again, as with ‘glamorous,’ a word new to him, Haritos uses ‘profile’ several times before the end of the chapter, and one final time to demonstrate to his boss, Ghikas, that he’s looked it up, as instructed, and absorbed it into his vocabulary.
The second word, ‘flexible’ is what Ghikas says Haritos isn’t, but must learn to be.
“Listen, Costas, you’re a good officer. You’ve got brains and you’re eager. But you have one fault. You’re unbending. You don’t know how to be flexible. You jump in headfirst, come up against a wall, and bang your head on it. When you’re dealing with people like Delopoulos or Pylarinos, you have to be as slippery as an eel, or they’ll wrap you up in a sheet of paper and throw you in the wastepaper basket.”
I kept quiet because I knew he was right. I was unbending, and whenever I got something into my head, I was unable to let it go, no matter where it led me.
Later, Haritos looks it up:
Flexible = J. able to be bent easily without breaking, pliable. 2. adapt-able or variable. 3. able to be
persuaded easily, tractable. Interesting word. Now, which sense best suited Ghikas, and which one best suited me? Ghikas was fairly easy. He bent easily when it came to the minister and Delopoulos (an influencial businessman), or when he was dealing with the media. And in the end, he’d have us all bending to their wishes. Me, I was more in the adaptable and variable category.
Inspector Haritos: Dictionary Addict – References to the Murder Investigation
I’d made note of a couple of instances in Deadline in Athens where Haritos comes upon definitions in his dictionaries that give insight into his investigations, but on second thought I decided they’d be ‘spoilers’ which goes against what I’m up to here on this blog.
In Zone Defence, it’s not a dictionary, but a sports correspondent who explains to Haritos the title’s meaning and how it applies to his investigation:
“Do you know what zone defence is, Inspector?
“It’s lining up the defence in a zone formation, making it difficult for the forwards of the opposing team to get close to the goal… You’ll find yourself facing a zone defence and it’s going to be very hard for you to break through.
Much later in the book, Haritos has to admit that…
“In the end, what [the sports correspondent] had said had proved to be prophetic. [the criminal] had set up a zone defence which was impossible to break through… when you eventually managed to get past all of them, looming before you was the goalkeeper… and the ball had come to me and I could neither score nor pass it to anyone else.”
Have to admit I wasn’t very excited about diving into Zone Defence, mainly because the title suggested a sports story, not my favourite, but it’s not really that; the mystery is foremost. Developing more slowly than in the first book, the plot is complex, but engrossing. I enjoyed the read.
I don’t doubt that any one of us can name a few fictional detectives with quirky hobbies, but I don’t think I’ve come across any with an eccentricity that adds as much to the protagonist’s character as Haritos’ dictionary addiction.
Not sure what I’ll be focusing on next post. No new series sleuths on my reading list, just one-offs, and though I’m quite pleased that I have the eBook version of Petros Markaris’ third, Che Committed Suicide, on my reader, I’m not as pleased that with no more of the Inspector Haritos Mystery Series on the horizon, I’ll have to do my utmost to savour it very slowly.
So far there’s no indication as to when the subsequent books in the series will be available in English. It’s not the usual case of waiting impatiently for a writer to produce another installment; Petros Markaris has already written several more books in the Inspector Haritos series, all bestsellers in their original Greek, most available in Spanish and possibly other languages, but not English.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that since the most recent books in the series deal with the ongoing crisis in Greece, the publishers will be prompted by world interest to get the translations to us as soon as humanly possible.
Next Moody Sleuth Tuesday is June 18