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  • Nicolas Verdan |  Review |  The Greek Wall
Reviews The Greek Wall

Publishers Weekly Starred review: A political debate familiar to American and European readers undergirds Swiss author Verdan’s stellar U.S. debut. In 2010, the Greeks are considering building a wall on the border with Turkey, a government project with “both practical and symbolic value, being intended simultaneously to discourage illegal immigration and to send the message that Greece could not be entered at will.” Euros from Brussels are required for its construction, and the discovery of a headless male corpse near the border threatens to imperil the plan. Given the high stakes, the Greek leaders want Evangelos, the agent of the National Intelligence Service investigating the murder, to act quietly and identify the victim as soon as possible. Evangelos, a new grandfather who considers the truth sacred, pursues the few leads doggedly, wherever they might lead. Verdan effectively uses a less-than-omniscient third-person narrator (“But is that really the history of [Evangelos’s] family? His own family?”). The outcome will bring solace to those opposed to the construction of border walls. (Feb.) 


The Times: In 2010 Greece was suffering from two crises: its faltering economy and the arrival of large numbers of migrants and refugees. With that febrile atmosphere as a backdrop, Nicolas Verdan, a Greek-Swiss who writes in French, has written The Greek Wall, a tight mystery that doubles as an informative political thriller. A headless corpse is found by the river that forms the boundary between Greece and Turkey; controversial plans are under discussion to build a long barbed-wire wall along it to prevent migrants crossing from the Turkish side. Criminal gangs in the area are also people-trafficking from eastern Europe. Corruption flourishes at all levels. Agent Evangelos of Greek intelligence has just become a grandfather and is close to retirement. He is sent to investigate. Terrific atmosphere.


Shotsmag: This is a very unusual crime novel.  It is set in contemporary Greece, with a Greek protagonist, Agent Evangelos of Greek Intelligence, but it is written by a Swiss author, superbly translated from the French by W. Donald Wilson.  It is apparently based on a true story, and this I can believe.

Evangelos lives in Athens.  He is ordered to travel north to the Greek/Turkish/Bulgarian borders to investigate the discovery of a severed head in a ditch near a wall which is being built to prevent Middle Eastern immigrants crossing the River Evros into Greece from Turkey.It is at the height of the Greek financial meltdown.  Athens is full of violent demonstrators.  Evangelos gets the impression that his superiors wish to hush up the circumstances of the murder as quickly as possible so that the story doesn't get into the press.  He is not far from retirement and has completely lost faith in the Greek government and its agencies.  He is determined to investigate the murder fully and bring the culprit to justice.

On arrival in the north, he quickly discovers persuaded by people smugglers to come with them to work as a prostitute in Greece, where she could earn a lot of money.  She had been brought to the Greek/Turkish border and forced to work in the brothel, where she was given drugs and made to take part in orgies with the Frontex officers.  She insists she did not wield the axe herself, but a man with whom she struggled during her flight may have done.

This man, Nikolaus Strom's, story now forms a large part of the narrative.  He is half German and half Greek, and is the owner of a German fencing contractor, who has put in a quote to build the fence for a much smaller sum than the company to whom the contract has been awarded.  He claims that on the day of the murder he had a meeting to discuss his quote with a Greek military officer who failed to turn up.  When he realises he is under suspicion for the murder he manages to escape from custody and sets off towards the border with Bulgaria.  Evangelos pursues him, but soon realises that Strom is not going to be charged with the murder (of which he is certainly innocent), but with spying.  He knows this is not true, but doggedly carries on.

Evangelos's dilemmas and the strength and weaknesses of his character are vividly brought to life.  But it is the sheer poetic beauty of the writing (despite the sleaziness and brutality of the storyline), and the haunting descriptions of the landscape, that remain solidly in the mind. (Maureen Carlyle).


Bookblast:  A severed head is found on the Greek border near a wall planned to stop Middle Eastern immigrants crossing from Turkey. Intelligence Agent Evangelos wants the truth about the murder, human trafficking into Greece, and about the corruption surrounding the wall’s construction. More than a mystery novel and a political thriller,The Greek Wall evokes the problems of the West incarnated in Greece: isolationism, fear of immigration, economic collapse and corruption. Paradise for tourists can become a hell for immigrants.

Poetic, pungent and atmospheric, The Greek Wall is a good example of how compelling crime fiction gives insights into the detective and the society in which they live. 




Prologue: It is moonless and dark. A pink neon sign, “Eros”, marks the brothel where the colonel has chosen to meet him. He parks, wondering if here, as well as meeting the colonel, he might be able to put the ghost of his lover to rest. But it is so dark that he cannot even find the building’s entrance. Blundering around he is tripped by, of all things, a line of washing. He stumbles back up onto his feet as a yard light goes on and he sees a young woman approaching. As she gets closer to him, he notices her blank stare. He also realises that she is hefting an axe upon her shoulder. He shouts out, “No! No!” as the axe falls.

Athens, December 2010: Agent Evangelos stands in front of his favourite jazz bar at two in the morning and wonders just what a severed head looks like. The case is his, according to the phone call, so he must leave Athens for the Thrace border – the Evros delta, the Schengen area. Evangelos had said into the phone: “A dead body? So what? They fish dead bodies out of the Evros all the time. Why us?” But it isn’t exactly a dead body. It’s just the head. And not that of a migrant, It’s a Westerner’s head – in Frontex patrolled border country. The job must go to Athens, to the National Intelligence Service.

Evangelos is tired. He is always tired these days. Three years off retirement but with the national debt crisis … what were the chances for his pension? Now he will be facing meetings, reports, dealing with the Turkish authorities, with Frontex. How do you deal with Frontex? They’re headquartered in Warsaw. Evangelos thinks this severed head bodes no good for him. He will be squeezed into a tight place. Told to keep a lid on it. So he heads not to his own home but to the empty house of his dead parents to rest before the flight to Thrace tomorrow afternoon. As he stretches out on the sofa his phone buzzes. His daughter’s child has been born, a girl. Evangelos is a grandfather.

Evangelos stops off to visit the newborn on the way to the airport. He knows that his old colleague and driver will not say anything about the unofficial stop. But today Evangelos cannot help recalling other drivers, silent ones; other meetings, meetings where he was as good as told to ignore the implications of a wealthy businessman, a powerful political donor with past links to the Communist bloc. Put a lid on it Evangelos. And this morning’s meeting? Go there, identify the dead man and … put a lid on it. The border is a problem. But Greece will be building a wall, a barbed wire fence, and then Europe will shut up about Greece’s “inability” to secure its borders. A nurse interrupts Evangelos and his preoccupations. The baby brings a smile to his face...

Set in 2010, THE GREEK WALL bursts into dramatic action in the marshy Evros river country of Greece’s north-eastern border with Turkey. It’s a landscape already patrolled by the European Union Frontex forces despite migration not yet having reached the crisis point that draws the eyes of the outside world. A gruesome murder outside a squalid brothel is the fuse which lights up a mess of corruption, sex-trafficking and politics. And the politics of money cannot be far away: 2010 is crisis time for Greece’s national debt and its struggle with “the Troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF. 

Verdan draws on his own journalistic knowledge in lifting the lid off the corrupted stew-pot of contemporary events as seen through the eyes of both Evangelos, a weary intelligence officer, and Nikos, a German-Greek businessman looking to seal an important business deal. Verdan’s observant, fresh, descriptive powers paint the setting of contemporary Greece and its people vividly. If I have any doubts about the story it is in the detailed exploration of the relationship between Nikos and Christine which seems to distract almost from the direct thread of the plot. But as I have remarked before I am a bit of a hard-boiled girl. The plot definitely contains a strong punch of mystery and suspense and its hints of an ambiguous past for Evangelos also gives strong potential for more stories to come. If you like the flavour of contemporary politics in your crime reading (as I do), you will find at THE GREEK WALL a meeting of Europe and Greece seen through Greek eyes, a vantage point I haven’t come across before in a crime thriller. I’d certainly like to read more.



Agent Evangelos was thinking about the past when the call came about the severed head. As a member of Greek Intelligence, he is tasked with investigating the circumstances around the discovery of a head separated from its body on the banks of the river Evros. The river forms a frontier with Turkey which many Middle Eastern immigrants cross to get into Greece and Western Europe.

Every day immigrants are found drowned on the banks of the river and the mufti of a local village collects their bodies and buries them in a local cemetery.

Travelling from Athens to the region of Thrace Agent Evangelos uncovers a story of corruption, human trafficking and business opportunism centred on the construction of a ten-mile wall built on the Greek border with Turkey.

A local brothel called the ‘Eros’ offers a horrifying and sobering insight into the fate of women from other countries desperate to reach the apparent safety and freedom of Western Europe. The desperate plight of illegal immigrants is seen in the wider context of the European Union and its power plays with individual states.

A German Greek business man and a Russian prostitute are just two people who find themselves as pawns in a much larger game. Agent Evangelos finds himself reflecting on his own personal story and that of Greece at a difficult and traumatic time in its history. Against a background of financial collapse, social unease, rioting and paranoia he must find the truth about the severed head.

This anonymous victim is apparently of little interest to wider society but Evangelos feels compelled to uncover the story behind its appearance and if possible find justice for them. The Greek Wall paints a bleak and desperate view of recent times in Europe but also contrasts this wider picture with the intimate details of individual lives. From the troubled streets of Athens to the stark beauty of Thrace author Nicolas Verdan describes cityscapes and landscapes with equal skill and beauty. Thought-provoking and intensely told, The Greek Wall is an uncompromising depiction of our turbulent times and the many tragedies which are now unfolding on our television screens on a daily basis.  



Nudge Book:

Slim and pithy but meditative, this is a novel about borders, between states and between people. We all pick our sides. A wide sweeping thriller of modern Europe.

The Greek Wall is the first novel by Verdan to be translated into English and it’s a decent thriller with a neat change of pace half way through. The novel says a lot about the value European societies place on human life at the edges of the continent. A severed head turns up on the Greece/Turkey border and it’s western European. That brings the matter to the attention of Athens; these are sensitive times. Plans are well under way for the Greek Wall to be built on the banks of the Evros to prevent the uncontrolled flow of migrants into Europe.

It’s a slow burn but the novel is about more than a murder it’s a serious investigation of life on the border; for the refugees, the locals and European institutions. Regardless of your attitude to the issue of immigration this is about big business, corruption, the abuse of power and human dignity.

Donald Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a wall to keep out the immigrants. The Israelis already have (for defence purposes/to isolate the Palestinians?). The Greek Wall of this novel is more like an unbreachable fence but the basic principle is the same. A barrier against a tide of people.

So The Greek Wall is a crime novel with some really contemporary themes: people trafficking, mass immigration into Europe, and the financial crisis in Greece. Not quite a polemic but an intelligent political novel that is an engaging and chilling thriller of our times. It’s the issues that underlie the story that stick with you, they are such an ingrained part of modern European life. It is scary to think about the tragic scale of the problem and the lack of concern among governments to ensure things are done properly. Verdan exposes the corruption and criminality that blights the border regions and the shocking level of official collusion in that. The Eastern European borders have been the scene of conflict in recent years and new measures to block people entering, some legal some illegal, can add to the violence. What Verdan exposes is the lack of empathy for what happens on the edges of Europe, there are zones of near lawlessness.

The Greek Wall is set in 2010, migrants attempt to cross the Evros river into Greece every day. The economic crisis in the country just gets worse and austerity is hurting everybody. The IMF, Brussels and the World Bank are all playing hard ball with the Greek Government. On the one hand demanding actions against the flood of refugees and on the other starving Greece of bail out money. In Athens, Security Agent Evangelos bemoans his problems, not least the rise in petrol prices that hits every ordinary worker hard, even civil servants are not well paid. There are reports from Orestiada of a corpse-less head turning up on the border. Just where the authorities want to strengthen the barriers to migrants. The rest of Europe is looking at Greece criticising their response to the crisis as part of the problem. The Amsterdam Treaty has opened borders and the free movement in the Schengen area means that those who arrive in Greece can travel on throughout the continent.

The severed head, discovered by the Frontex guards (a combined force of European agencies, in this case Finns), becomes a national issue. There are too many ramifications for the local police captain because the head is European and Western. Sure enough, that attracts the attention of the National Intelligence Agency (counter terrorism, counter espionage and organised crime). Agent Evangelos is sent to investigate but given the sensitivity of border issues his bosses expect a simple result quickly. On arriving Evangelos discovers that things are anything but simple. The Frontex officers are implicated in some nasty goings on at a local brothel. The building is empty by the time Evangelos arrives, all the witnesses cleared out. The investigation has been badly handled so far. Eventually one of the prostitutes is found and she has quite a story to tell. What Evangelos uncovers could help Greece squeeze the EU. for more money. Athens order Evangelos to drop the murder investigation in favour of blackmailing Europe but he still wants to know why a man died in apparently vicious circumstances.

The style is a little off putting at the start, as I said it’s a slow burn. The third person narrative established a personal history for Agent Evangelos. It gives a context to Greek history, the dictatorship of the Generals, and as far back as the Armenian crisis of 1922. Most importantly it a sort of every man story that remained us we are all migrants somewhere down the line. It reinforces that history repeats itself. It’s an intellectual read, political but also emotional.

Verdan is a Swiss author writing in French and living a lot of the time in Greece. The level of research into the border situation is almost journalistic in intensity. This is a dark vision of the parlous state of Europe at the edges. It smacks of authenticity and reflects on the almost daily stories that we now hear in the news. At the heart of the novel is fear and the plight of the individual against a system that really doesn’t care.

This is a thriller that carries a message, it’s breadth and audacity are remarkable in a crime novel of only 200 pages. This is not one that you will forget in a hurry.

What you think is going on is not necessarily the case. The strings are being pulled and one young woman, forced into prostitution, and one businessman looking to make the deal of his life are caught up in political events, machinations by people who don’t care how many little people are destroyed in the process. Yet no one is innocent; they made the choices that brought them to the border on the day of the murder.

Evangelos is a fascinating character, because he appears to be searching for the truth there is a tendency to trust his motives but is he all he seems? The Greek Wall is not an easy read, the human peril is very real and the things people do to each other can be so cruel. Paul Burke 5/3





Amos Lassen: Nicolas Verdan came to be a novelist after having had a career as a journalist and his writing is filled with realism. This mystery is also a thriller that keeps you turning pages. 


Seattle Book Review:

Nicolas Verdan has written an interesting mystery that incorporates all that troubles contemporary Greek society: the political and economic crisis, corruption, international migration, and border security. It all begins with the discovery of a severed head along the Greek-Turkish border. Agent Evangelos, a Greek intelligence officer, is called in to investigate. One thing seems certain: the victim is not an illegal immigrant. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that a Russian escort and a German-Greek businessman are somehow involved in a sinister death. Agent Evangelos is determined to find out the truth no matter how hard others are trying to cover up the mystery behind the body at the border.

I enjoyed the story, especially the political nature of the content, but I was not a great fan of Mr. Verdan’s style of writing. Agent Evangelos had a habit of rambling on and on, which was at times a little annoying. But he was a complex character, and that did go some way in holding my attention. Despite the things I didn’t like, I think this is still an interesting work that reflects the tough times in modern-day Greece. So, for those who enjoy political mysteries, this is one to consider. 



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