HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES is the fourth book in the Dinah Pelerin series of international mysteries. This time Dinah travels to Greece expecting a romantic holiday with her boyfriend and an opportunity to learn more about ancient Greek culture. She discovers that the 21st Century Greece is reeling from a juggernaut of debt, an influx of illegal immigrants, arms smuggling, and resentments stemming from the military junta forty years ago. Corruption abounds, no one can be trusted, and when her boyfriend’s car plunges off a cliff and he disappears, it falls to her to find him on her own.
I’m a sucker for an adventure, a globetrotter by choice—a choice that often means I can’t stay in one place for more than a couple of years then I just have to move… which annoys the wife no end… So, figuring I’d found a kindred spirit I couldn’t wait to chat to Jeanne about Dinah’s adventures.
Each of your books is set in a different country. Why the international theme?
The short answer is wanderlust. I’m addicted to travel so it made sense to give my main character, Dinah Pelerin, a great curiosity about the world and nothing or no one to tie her down. The name Pelerin means pilgrim in French and that pretty much establishes the theme. Another of my addictions which I’ve transferred to Dinah is mythology. I’m fascinated by the strange gods and superstitions the ancients invented to explain the workings of the universe. Dinah is part Native American with an instinctive empathy for the aboriginal peoples of the countries she visits and as an aspiring cultural anthropologist, she is drawn to the mythical past.
Myths are interesting, some of them laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s the modern history and politics of a place that inspires my plots. Wherever Dinah goes, something happens that forces her not just to solve a murder, but to discover what matters to the people who live in that particular place. In my first book, BONES OF CONTENTION, she finds herself in the Northern Territory of Australia trying to understand the Aboriginal concept of song lines and also the Australian government’s historical efforts to eliminate the Aboriginal race. In BET YOUR BONES, she learns that Pele is more than a silly superstition sold to the tourists. The Hawaiian word “pele” is synonymous with the land and a potent symbol of all that the Native Hawaiians have lost as a result of the U.S. policy of Manifest Destiny — the expulsion of their queen, the degradation of their environment, the loss of their language and religion, and the exploitation and cheapening of their customs. In BONEREAPERS, Dinah hies off to the Norwegian Arctic, site of the Svalbard Global “Doomsday” Seed Vault, and falls for a sexy Sami policeman named Thor, after the Norwegian god of thunder. And HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES takes her to Greece, home of the most human, capricious, and trouble-prone of the ancient gods, and site of a financial, political, and social meltdown that seems to be happening in slow motion.
I’ve heard it said that American readers like to read books set in America, have you ever been tempted to have at least one adventure on home soil?
I have, but so far I’ve resisted. Like me, Dinah hails from Georgia. Her hometown is Needmore, a boondocks near the Okefenokee Swamp whose name sums it up to a tee. It needs more of everything except scandal, which her clan of scheming, truth-challenged relatives and friends provide in abundance. When asked why she doesn’t want to return, Dinah says, “quicksand.” I feel just the same. In some ways, the South is more of a foreign country to me than anyplace I’ve been. But I may have to go back someday to exorcise my demons.
What takes Dinah to Greece in HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES? How fertile a country is that for a thriller, given the turmoil over there right now?
Thor invites Dinah to join him for a summer of sun and romance on the Aegean island of Samos, which lies less than a mile off the Turkish coast. Supposedly on sabbatical from his policeman’s job in Norway, he has leased the house of a Greek movie star who was executed forty years ago for the murder of her boyfriend and a powerful colonel in the military junta that ruled Greece in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He seems unduly fascinated by the old murders and Dinah soon learns that he had more than romance in mind when he chose their holiday destination. Guns supplied to the former junta by the American CIA have turned up in Norway recently in the hands of terrorists and Norwegian intelligence has traced the source of the weapons to Samos. When an Iraqi immigrant with a fake ID is killed, Thor suspects a link to the arms traffickers and investigates. When his car plunges off a cliff and he disappears, Dinah fears that he was betrayed by the local police and either kidnapped or murdered. Unable to trust anyone, she sets out to find him. The deeper she digs, the more connections she sees between the present turmoil and the crimes that occurred during the time of the junta.
And you are dead right, so to speak. The island is a very fertile spot for a thriller. It has become a transit point for refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa through Turkey. Smugglers can transport their human cargo across the narrow Mycale Strait from Turkey to Samos in under an hour, but the passage is treacherous. Many die in the attempt and the Samians, left to cope with the bodies washing up on their beaches and the horde of undocumented survivors who must be fed and housed while they await processing feel increasingly alienated and resentful of both their own government and the European Union. The Greek debt crisis and burgeoning unemployment have added to the island’s hardships. And there’s plenty of that good old-fashioned Greek word xenophobia going around. Attacks on immigrants by supporters of the Golden Dawn Party have become an everyday occurrence in Athens and the police seem unable to stem the increasing tide of violence.
I went to school with a couple of lads who were avoiding their military service in the 80s, knowing it meant they’d never set foot in their homeland again, I can’t imagine the kind of things their parents must have gone through for that to be a viable alternative…
I must have had my head in the sand in the wary ’70s, or else was distracted by the Watergate scandal, because I had very little knowledge of the Greek junta. In fact, when I began writing this book, I knew more about Greece before the birth of Christ than since World War II. A bloody civil war followed WWII pitting the Greek government army backed by the U.S. and Britain against the military branch of the Communist Party. It polarized the country and paved the way for the coup that put a military dictatorship in power in 1967. The U.S. always saw Greece as vulnerable to a communist insurgency and so naturally, the Nixon Administration supported the so-called Regime of the Colonels as the only way to save the nation from the Red Menace and turned a blind eye to the abuses. The junta declared leftist academics, journalists, Hollywood movies, The Rolling Stones, and even Mark Twain to be enemies of the Greek State. They banned a host of culturally influential musicians and writers and jailed and tortured anyone who threatened their authority.
The Greek actress Melina Mercouri was a vocal opponent of the junta, which exiled her and confiscated her property. I may have been thinking of her when I created the character of the actress executed by the junta.
You’ve talked about the turmoil of the present, but Greece has an incredible past, too, right? Does Dinah dig, so to speak?
Dinah does dig. In fact, she occasionally joins archaeological digs and while on Samos, she becomes intrigued by the ruins of the Temple of Hera, queen of the Greek gods. Hera was born on Samos and legend has it that the women of Samos all have something of the temperament of Hera inside of them. Hera was famously jealous, justifiably so given Zeus’s incorrigible tendency to stray with various nymphs, and she definitely had problems with anger management. I had fun playing with the legend and integrating it into my characterizations of my female characters.
Thanks so much for an absolutely fascinating chat. How often do you get to talk about military juntas, incorrigible gods and naughty nymphs, international smuggling rings and wanderlust? Not often enough if you ask me.
“absorbing…Matthews combines her command of Greek history with details relating to the country’s current political and financial woes for a potent mix of page-turning intrigue.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin series of international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, she was born and raised in Georgia. She currently resides in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor, and her West Highland terrier, who is a law unto herself.
To learn more about Jeanne, please visit her website.