'Santorini Caesars,' A Conversation with Jeffrey Siger

09/21/2016 08:33 am ET
Jeffrey Siger
Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger, a former Wall Street attorney, gave up his legal career to write mystery thrillers. Living on the Greek island of Mykonos, he has written his eighth novel in the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series. His books have been nominated for the Left Coast Crime and Barry Awards.

Santorini Caesars begins with the assassination of a young demonstrator by trained killers in the heart of protest-charged Athens. Chief Inspector Kaldis, convinced the killing was far more than what it seemed, takes the investigation to the beautiful island of Santorini where he encounters a secret gathering of Greece’s top military commanders who are devising their own response to the uncertainties and political crisis facing their country.

It could be a coup d’état, or something else since Greece has a history of deposing duly-elected governments. The international intrigue escalates as the threat of another assassination looms, and Kaldis moves to expose what is going on and tries to stop it.

Andreas Kaldis is an intriguing character. Tell us a little about him.

Andreas is a second generation cop living in a land where police are not highly regarded. No matter how the political winds blow, he stands up for what he believes is right. He deals with the issues confronting his country and has the authority to investigate crime as well as political corruption.

How has he evolved over the course of eight novels?

For his first assignment, Kaldis started off on the island of Mykonos. He was sent there as ‘punishment’ for having been too closely on the heels of certain corrupt officials back in Athens. On Mykonos, he met Yanni Kouros, who becomes his sidekick for the rest of the series. Kaldis gets married and eventually returns to Athens. There, he is promoted to his present position of Chief Inspector and is empowered to investigate a variety of crises confronting Greece.

Each book in the series is essentially an element in a mosaic exploring a crisis for Greece as well as for Europe. Whether it be the relationship of Greece to the church, its relationship to its own government, the situation with migrants, or other social and political issues, each book delves into a contemporary problem.

The island of Santorini plays an important role in this novel and almost becomes a character. Tell us about this island’s history and role in the novel.

Santorini has probably been more firmly fixed in the world’s imagination than any other Greek island. It’s said to be the lost island of Atlantis. Enormous earthquakes and volcanoes have happened in this area. If you look at Santorini, it’s the view from the caldera, the rim of what once was the volcano, that is one of the world’s most intriguing vantage points. You will see blues and greens you’ve never seen elsewhere. Strangely, the very earthquakes that destroyed much of the island, are responsible for it having become an important Greek tourist destination.

How does the current refugee crisis in Europe make for fertile ground in writing your mystery novels?

Are you reading the draft of my next book? [Laughter]. That’s precisely what I’m writing about. The refugee situation is a crisis for the world. If you live in the Middle East or Africa and fear for your children, you look toward Europe as a safe haven. The only rational wish is to get your children out of these places.

That’s the motivation driving this migration by refugees. It will never end until the world recognizes something must be done politically and environmentally. Greece has become the filter-trap for refugees. Previously, Greece had a homogeneous population. With the influx of a million refugees into a country of ten million people, there’s been a ten percent increase in population. The politics have become more polarized. There are now people of different faiths and cultures in the country. Everything has become intensified. This has given rise to the growing power of right-wing parties. These dynamics are playing out in a country that doesn’t have the money to sustain itself because Greece is basically bankrupt.

Each pressure creates a reaction and that’s very rich fodder for my books. Living on Mykonos, I have access to people in government and business, so my writing becomes informed. Andreas Kaldis is the perfect vehicle for expressing concerns about these compelling national and world issues.

What made you give up practicing law to become a full- time novelist?

When I was younger, I always thought I’d become a writer.

I went to school with a kid with whom I played football. One day in class, he stood up and read something he had written. The teacher said, ‘All of you writers…if you work hard, you’ll be able to write like this young man.’ I never believed I could write as well as he did, so I became a lawyer.

That guy’s name is John Edgar Wideman, who went on to write Philadelphia Fire, which won the 1990 PEN/Faulkner Award. He’s a distinguished novelist.

Years later, someone who read my writing encouraged me to begin writing full-time. I had a successful law practice and didn’t want to give that up to become a struggling writer.

But, while practicing law, I sat down and wrote a book which was very well-received. A friend urged me to pursue writing full-time. It was after 9/11, and I said to myself, ‘Life’s too short.’ I walked away from my law practice, began to write full-time, and have never regretted a moment of it. I teach mystery writing at a university and tell my students, ‘Writing is a lousy way to make a living, but a wonderful way to make a life.’ Not having become a writer earlier allowed me to more comfortably practice my art as a writer.

Which authors in the mystery/thriller genres do you read?

When I’m writing, I don’t read other mystery writers. It can throw me off my game. My favorite writer is Cormac McCarthy. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries are a favorite of mine. If I named all my favorite writers, I’d probably lose a number of friends [Laughter].

What’s coming next from Jeffrey Siger?

You already anticipated my next book. I’m involved in a project dealing with the refugee crisis and haven’t as yet determined how I’m going to handle this issue in the next Andreas Kaldis novel, but it will get done.

Congratulations on writing Santorini Caesars, a novel that’s both a rock-solid mystery and comments incisively about so many issues besetting Europe and the world today.

Mark Rubinstein’s latest book is Bedlam’s Door: True Tales of Madness & Hope, a medical/psychiatric memoir.

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