Greek Fire by Winston Graham : Book Review

Heads up, thrill-seekers. Get ready to take some Greek Fire!

Bookxpert Rating : 2.5/5

Genre : Thriller

Greek Fire by Winston Graham

Buy Greek Fire now (paperback)
Buy Greek Fire now (Kindle edition)

Jon Tolos is dead. His widow, Maria Tolos is inconsolable. They were flamenco dancers- Jon and Maria, Jon’s brother Phillip plays the harp, and they perform at the Little Jockey, a nightclub in Athens. It is an accident, the Greek police says, ruling out the possibility of murder. But is it ? And what were 3 Spanish performers doing in Greece anyway?

Gene Vanbrugh works for a publishing firm in Paris, and is in Greece for its business. He goes to this nightclub, the Little Jockey on his first night in Greece, where Jon’s trio is performing. Jon dies the next day. Gene knows Jon’s death is not an accident as the police claim. Moreover, he also knows the murderer, and the reason for murder. How does he know all this? And can we be sure he himself isn’t the murderer?

Anya Stonaris is the stunning mistress of George Lascou, who is a prominent figure in Greece’s politics. Elections are around the corner. She too is in the Little Jockey with George’s second-in-command Manos, and what’s more, on the same night as Gene.

In this high voltage political setting, it seems to us almost impossible for Gene to do it all- prevent Geroge Lascou from getting elected, help Anya see through the fog spun around her by her supposed well wishers, and gain her affection in the bargain-this apart from the actual work he goes to Greece for ! But is he able to escape from the police that is hell-bent on arresting him?

With a little help from old trustworthy friends, an enviable knowledge of Greek history, and a pretty good sense of Athens’ ways, in true James Bond style, he accomplishes it all- that too minus 007’s funky gadgets!

James Bond vs. Gene
James Bond (left) vs. Gene (right) – where Bond uses funky gadgets and cars to reach his goal, Gene does it by climbing on ledges and making use of taxis!

The plot is good– it gave me a Dan Brown vibe. Dan Brown keeps it tight, a 350 page book for 2 days, heavy on descriptions, and yet so compelling. Greek Fire is more lax, but the plot is a bit like Brown’s, unrealistic with lots of histrionics. The character Gene also shares similarities with Brown’s main protagonist Robert Langdon, what with their knowledge of history and athleticism.
Another plus is the language. It’s easy to follow, and beginners will enjoy this book.

We are reminded, at once, on the mention of Greece and Athens, of the brilliant architecture there, and of course Greek mythology. What with statues of gorgeous, well-chiselled Greek Gods and Goddesses we have seen in European countries (at least photos of), or more appropriately for a blog like this, through books like Percy Jakson (yayyyy Percy fanclub high five!), Greek mythology has always been very very intriguing! In the below images, the names are all links, and you can click on them to read more interesting facts on them.

Greek Fire is set in the 1950’s, and thus the Greek Civil war is significant to the conditions and mindsets of the characters in the book. George and Gene have both spoken about the poverty and starvation among the people war-sticken Greece.

“It’s not important. Except that no one who has not felt poverty, extreme poverty, can ever understand the inexpressible luxury of luxury. No one who has not grown up in a windswept, arid, treeless, soil-less village in the hills, sun-baked in summer, snow-smothered in winter-no one who has not had to apportion his last fifty drachmae between goat’s cheese and maize bread and the corner of a draughty shed to lie in…”
She said:”You show so little, it might never have happened to you.”
“I don’t show it but I have it here.” He touched his body. “It’s what I was saying, it’s the thing Michael will lack. I wouldn’t be without it now. It’s the dynamo powering everything–it’s the source of self-control, caution, courage, perseverance, obstinacy-any creative efforts I may make; it’s the source of all the things I do to supply an inescapable need!”

Greek Fire. George Lascou to Anya Stonaris.

Even against the superb backdrop of  Greek architectural wonders like the Acropolis, Eleusis, Arakhova, Parnassus and Delphi, and with a generous dosage of Greek history to go along with it, the first half feels slow and somewhat like a tour guide. It is in the second half that the book becomes unputdownable- it gains pace and the writing is good.

clockwise from top left - Arakhova village, the city of Delphi, mount Parnassus, Acropolis of Athens with the Parthenon at its centre
Clockwise from top left – Arakhova village, the city of Delphi, mount Parnassus, Acropolis of Athens with the Parthenon at its centre

Greek Fire feels overwhelming, like Gene is trying to do too many things at the same time. The writing wanders off in places. I also had difficulty following the Greek history discussions without knowing the background in advance. Moments of tenderness between Gene and Anya are welcome– the book makes us root for them.

They were talking in whispers, her face close to his but her expression very distant. Once her breath fanned his cheek.
He said rather quietly: “Anya, I want to talk to you.”
“Not now. It is a silly time.”
“I think we’ve both been deceiving ourselves.”
“About what?”
“About this.” He drew her against him and kissed her quietly on the mouth. She shook her head for a second or so after their lips touched.

Greek Fire. Dialog between Gene Vanbrugh and Anya Stonaris.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I was SO into Gene and Anya, I wanted more of them and the ending just felt very abrupt. I actually googled if there was a sequel of this book where I could continue, but sadly didn’t find any. So this has to be it.
I also got to know of Graham’s other more famous works while researching or this post, so if I ever come across any of those, I will write about it!
Or if you’ve already read them and would like to tell us about them, I’d be glad to talk about it!

About the Author:

Winston Graham on Poldark sets (sitting in center)

Winston Mawdsley Graham was born in Manchester in 1910 and has become renowned as the creator of the Poldark series, a collection of historical novels set amid the early days of tin and copper mining in Cornwall. Graham also wrote crime based thrillers, most notably Marnie. Awarded an OBE in 1983 in recognition of his talents and achievements in literature, Graham’s work has established him as a master storyteller.

What’s good :-

  1. The fact that the book is written in third person, it gives the readers a kind of a birds eye view of what is happening in the book.
  2. Greek history- all the reading it made me do on Greek history for this post.

What should have been :-

  1. Better writing in the first half of the book, Graham could have taken lesser time than he did for setting the scene.
  2. I feel the plot had more scope for excitement and suspense than Graham has put in it.
  3. The ending felt abrupt. I actually went online and searched if there was a sequel to this book because I wanted more of Gene and Anya.

Other Stuff :

The Title:- Greek Fire- Gene played with Greek Fire on two fronts- on the one, wanting to stop George Lascou; on the other- persuing his mistress Anya Stonaris.
Best Line :-

“Let each man be equal with his neighbour and let every man be judged according to his service to the community.”

Greek Fire. George Lascou’s thoughts on equality.

Genre :- Thriller
Final Thoughts :- Thrill seekers and beginners will enjoy this book.
Up Next :- ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ by Sanjaya Baru

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