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Interview: February 15, 2024

Greece is burning, and Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis is determined to save his country from disaster. He will do it AT ANY COST, which is the 13th and latest installment in Jeffrey Siger's critically acclaimed, internationally bestselling mystery series. In this interview conducted by Michael Barson, Senior Publicity Executive at Melville House, Siger talks about why he decided to revisit his protagonist following the 2008 publication of his debut novel, MURDER IN MYKONOS; how the Greek locals and media have reacted to his novels and his portrayal of their country; and the writers whose work inspired some of the characters and dialogue in his books.

Question: When did the notion of writing a crime series starring a police chief of a Greek isle first occur to you? And did you conceive of the Kaldis books being a series from the get-go?

Jeffrey Siger: When I started writing about then-Mykonos Police Chief Andreas Kaldis, I didn’t intend on becoming a chronicler of Greece’s trials and tribulations. My original goal was to write a stand-alone novel telling the story of an island I knew intimately. I wanted to talk about its people, culture and politics and only settled upon the murder mystery format because it struck me as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory.

That may sound strange --- using a murder mystery as the vehicle for exploring the ambiguities of a culture --- but when you think about it, it’s a natural fit for just that purpose. I’m not suggesting a Brothers Karamazov sort of book here, but aside from the darkest sort of noir writing, I think it’s fair to say that “the return of order to a broken society is the basic underpinning of virtually all mysteries.” In other words, mysteries are by their nature optimistic. And bringing optimism to Greece I saw as a very good thing.

So when my first novel, MURDER IN MYKONOS, became Greece’s #1 bestselling English-language novel, I figured I’d better stick with my characters. People seemed to like the easy way serious issues --- political and otherwise --- were expressed in a way that accurately conveyed to non-Greeks what I saw in modern Greece.

Question: As a visitor to Greece for decades, you have no doubt made hundreds of friends there who appreciate your affinity for their homeland. Was the character of Chief Inspector Kaldis inspired by any actual figures you befriended there over so many years?

JS: A few years back, a journalist interviewing me at my friend’s hotel on Mykonos said to me, “Today I met a charismatic man who runs the hotel, who happens to have the name Andreas. He even looks like the visual image I have of Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis in the series. Is there a connection?”

This was my answer: “You don't say? Wow. Never realized that…”

That’s my story, and I'm sticking to it! I think it's important to bear in mind that we writers are inveterate body snatchers. We'll borrow physical details from one person to fit with the personality traits of another in order to create a new character. Friends have told me that Kaldis and I share the same sense of humor and a similar way of addressing problems.

Q: AT ANY COST is your lucky 13th installment in the Kaldis series. What is the key lesson you have learned that you wish you had known all those years ago when you first began writing these books?

JS: I am a seat-of-the-pants writer and haven’t consciously changed my approach to writing. Once inspiration strikes, I start in on the research and begin typing. It’s as simple --- or complex --- as that.

But I do have a lesson to share: For all but a rare few, writers are always at the mercy of the fickle finger of publishing. That’s why it’s so important to build honest, loyal, mutually supportive relationships with your colleagues, develop and maintain a personal fan base, and stay keenly aware of how your work is regarded by the publisher.

Q: How does the media universe of Greece react to your take on their country and its internal politics and crime-fighting apparatus? Have you ever received any pushback from a media source complaining of what they feel is an Outsider’s perspective?

JS: I never lose sight of the fact that I’m a guest in Greece, I’m not of Greek origins, and there are writers who placed stories in foreign locales they called home who were run out of town when their books were published. That’s why some writers chose not to publish in their adopted land’s language. In my case, though, I wanted my books read by Greeks, and so the risk had to be taken.

In deciding to walk away from my life as a name partner in my own New York City law firm, I said to myself that I would never write fluff. I would write what I thought should be said in a way that told the truth as I saw it about a country and a people I cared deeply about.  More importantly, I’d follow the same practice I’d adopted as a lawyer: Tell the story as it must be told, but don’t take cheap shots. 

Yes, there was anxiety as I awaited my Mykonian neighbors’ and the Greek media’s reactions to that first book, MURDER IN MYKONOS. But the locals loved it and argued among themselves over which of them I’d used as characters. They showed me the same love and respect I’d shown for them and their island.

As for the Greek media, my Greek publisher told me that in her experience no new book in Greece ever received as much positive media coverage as MURDER IN MYKONOS.

Greece’s Esquire Magazine wrote, “With ten million Greeks, half thinking they’re writers, how come we had to wait for a foreigner to come along to write such a book?” As the Greek American press wrote, “[Siger] has so profoundly captured the essence of Modern Greece and its people, you can’t believe he isn’t Greek.”

Q: This book delves deeply into the Metaverse and how its vast power might tempt nations to compete amongst themselves in an effort to control it. How much research did you have to do to render such an international struggle realistic?

JS: Start from the premise that we’re long past the temptation phase. Nations and multi-national conglomerates are already fiercely battling among themselves for metaverse dominance. This is not a sci-fi tale; it’s a reality this Luddite stumbled upon by accident.

All my books play out against serious issues confronting far more than just Greece. That niche has me continually on the lookout for what’s percolating on the edge of societal change. A little over two years ago, as I was tinkering with using the history and intrigues surrounding wildfires in Greece as the backdrop for my 13th novel, I noticed a surge in internet and corporate interest over what some labeled the “metaverse.”

With my interest now piqued, I delved into it. In what I can only describe as an epiphany, the very real threats posed by the bright and shiny lure of this digital metaverse jumped out at me as a solid foundation for the story I wanted to tell. But for those threats to come to pass, one needed (a) extraordinary electrical power, (b) virtually unlimited financial capabilities, (c) world-class digital savvy, and (d) a ruthless unchecked autocratic nature.

Lo and behold, my research revealed that all four elements already existed in abundance in Greece. Greek forests destroyed by wildfires had been approved by the government for hosting wind and solar power-generating facilities, and a trio of autocratic world powers possessing vast financial resources, top-notch technical skills and ruthless histories were and continued to be deeply involved in Greece.

I sensed that once the trio’s goal of becoming masters of the metaverse attracted media attention, public panic and a new form of “arms race” would ensue. And nothing I’ve heard or read from experts in the field have changed my impression.

I finished this novel over a year and a half ago, well before (a) widespread concern broke out over Artificial Intelligence/ChatGPT, (b) more horrific wildfires occurred in Greece, and (c) a trio of the world’s most autocratic powers revealed themselves as banded together in common cause.

(For the record, artificial intelligence played no part whatsoever in the writing of AT ANY COST.)

Q: Whenever I read a Kaldis novel, I am always reminded of the classic 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain, with his colorful collection of police detectives based in the fictional city of Isola, New York. What other authors were influences over the years on your decision to create the Chief Inspector Kaldis series?

JS: I can’t point to any writers who specifically inspired me to write the Kaldis series, though along with Ed McBain, my work has kindly been compared to such masters of the “exotic” police procedural as Andrea Camilleri and Donna Leon. What actually comes to mind are the names of writers whose work inspired elements of my books.

For example, whenever I ponder creating a villain, I think of Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden from BLOOD MERIDIAN; for the pace and meter of my dialogue, it’s the plays of August Wilson; and for aspects of Andreas’ mentor, Tassos Stamatos, K.C. Constantine’s Mario Balzic makes me smile.