The Devil Takes Half, by Leta Serafim: Sudden Violence Rouses a Sleepy Greek Island

devilThe Devil Takes Half ($14.95, 256 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-965-7), is the first book in the Greek Islands Mystery series, by new author Leta Serafim. A police officer with domestic problems and no experience with homicide sets out to find the killer of a beautiful archeologist.

(Starred Review–Featured as a Best Summer Debut) “Serafim’s dense prose is perfect for lovers of literary and scholarly mysteries. Her plotting is methodical and traditional, with subtle nods to Sherlock Holmes, Greek mythology, and historical events.”

—Library Journal, July 1, 2014

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“[An] impressive debut …. Serafim has a good eye for people and places, and sheds light on the centuries of violent passion that have created an oppressive atmosphere hanging over the sunny Greek landscape.”

—Publishers Weekly, June 23, 2014

“This solid police procedural has a literary style and a wry sense of humor, and it is enhanced by details of archaeology and history. The unique investigative pair is delightful, and you will feel transported to the Greek Isles.”  Read more….

—Emily Byers, The Statesman-Journal

“The Greeks have a word for it, and in this fast-paced, delightful mystery, that word is murder …. The real buried treasure is pure pleasure in Serafim’s debut novel.”

—Mary Daheim, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Alpine and Bed & Breakfast mystery series

“Whether it’s police procedural genre convention, the exotic island landscape, or the passionate Greek character, Serafim knows the lay of the land, and she confidently guides the reader. Armchair adventurers will get a solid grounding in Greece’s violent and tumultuous past. The quirky pairing of Patronas and Michalis has the makings of an unorthodox investigative team and the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. This immersive escapist mystery should put Serafim on the map.” Read more….

—Kirkus Indie Reviews

“The Greek setting gives this book not only an exotic locale but also characters that have a different way of looking at life and often, motives that wouldn’t exist if this happened in…Cleveland. Take a literary visit to Greece. You won’t regret it!”

—Jodi Webb

“Yiannis Patronas is a wonderful character…. The Devil Takes Half is loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next.  Ms. Serafim has provided us with a marvelous whodunit.”  Read more….

—Vic’s Media Room


At an archeological dig on the idyllic Greek Island of Chios, a severed hand is found lying in a blood-filled trench. Could it belong to Eleni Argentis, a beautiful archeologist who is also the wealthy daughter of a local ship owner? She and her young assistant, Petros, are both missing.

The chief officer of the local police force, Yiannis Patronas, suspects that Eleni and Petros happened upon something of real value. However, his search turns up nothing but handfuls of broken clay, and then, another body—that of Petros, whose throat has been brutally cut. Body parts belonging to Eleni are left behind on a remote beach, confirming her demise. Then an old priest with a fondness for TV detective shows is attacked and left for dead. The dig site is located near the monastery where he was the only resident.

Patronas interviews Petros’ longsuffering grandmother, his flighty mother and her money-grubbing boyfriend, as well as Eleni’s greedy stepmother and her charming son. He also confronts two archeologists, one British and one American …. If Eleni’s find is, as they insist, worthless, what are these men doing on Chios? Although Patronas has little experience with homicide, he is determined to conquer the evil that threatens this formerly peaceful island.

Says Leta, “I have visited over 22 of these islands and spent the equivalent of a decade among the people who inhabit them. Of all the qualities I have come to know, I most cherish the Greek sense of humor, that bittersweet viewpoint, both pungent and cynical, that is so uniquely theirs. In my view, the Greeks are always laughing at the unexpected, whatever adversity is thrown their way, passing along a bit of truth about human behavior as they go. Sages, every last one of them.”

Leta Serafim graduated from George Washington University in D.C. with a degree in political science and Russian studies. While in college, Leta worked at the Washington Post, writing obituaries and doing research for the national desk, and later joining the staff of the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau. Following her marriage to a Greek national, Philip Serafim, Leta moved to Athens. When she moved back to the U.S. seven years later, she wrote for local papers and the Boston Globe. After her mother began to lose her sight from glaucoma, she began designing and launching multiple media campaigns to increase public awareness of this disease. Leta spends at least one month every year in Greece and has visited over 25 islands. The Devil Takes Half is her first novel and the first book in the Greek Islands Mystery series. Coffeetown Press will also be publishing her work of historical fiction, To Look on Death No More.  Click here to find Leta online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

 Uninvited, the priest had followed him and now stood at the edge of the trench, looming over him, his black cassock billowing in the wind. “Chief Officer, with your permission, I’d like to assist you in your investigation.”

“Sorry, Father. You know that’s impossible.” Patronas was measuring the depth of the blood. He wasn’t sure what had happened, if the blood was even human, and he wanted to sort it out before his men arrived, before the day got any hotter. “This is police work and the police and the church, they’re at cross purposes. They don’t mix.”

“Hear me out. I can be of service. I’m familiar with the excavation. No one knows it better than I do. I am also familiar with crime detection. I am a fervent devotee of the mystery novel and of all manner of American detective shows. I know about trace evidence and DNA.”

Patronas waved him away. “You are a man of faith, Father. You’ve no business in a homicide investigation.”

“Faith and homicide are not incompatible. The Bible is full of homicides.”

“Be that as it may, I have no need of your services.”

Patronas entered his measurements in the spiral notebook he’d brought with him next to the date and time. He didn’t know what had transpired here, but he suspected it was a double homicide. He had never seen so much blood. Perhaps the priest was right and he should look to the forensic specialists on television to guide him. Write things down the way they did. As to what those policemen did with it after they wrote it down, he had no clue. As he’d told the priest, he’d never investigated a crime like this before. Assault and battery, sure. Violence against one’s spouse any number of times. But murder, never. As a cop, he was an amateur at best and he knew it.

“I can’t stop thinking about her,” the priest said. “Dead out here someplace.”

“What makes you so sure she’s dead?” There had been no doubt in the old man’s voice, only sadness.

“No one’s seen her. After I called you last night, I checked with Marina and Vassilis, people who were here yesterday. Eleni always said good-bye before she left, and yesterday she didn’t. Petros either.”

“Who was up here yesterday?”

“A lot of people: Petros’ mother and her boyfriend. Manoulis, I think his name was. Eleni’s stepmother, Marina Papoulis and Vassilis Korres, Jonathan Alcott, the American you met. Another archeologist was here, too, but earlier in the day. An Englishman.”

“Do you remember his name?”


“Anyone else?”

“Not that I know of.”

“You were here the whole time?”

“No, I got a haircut in the morning, did some errands in town. But Marina Papoulis was here, getting lunch ready in the kitchen. She’ll know if anyone came by while I was away.”

“Did she go down to the dig site that day?”

“No. To my knowledge, Marina has never visited the excavation.”

Not a long list. He’d start on it as soon as he finished here. “It seems she was concentrating on this end.” Patronas pointed to a break in the whitened matter, the broad indentation where the shards had been emptied out.

“Eleni kept a log. She told me you have to make a very precise drawing of the site with the elevations and afterwards number each fragment and pinpoint where it was found before you remove it.”

Patronas climbed out of the trench. He’d leave the rest to his men. He’d been in charge of the police force on the island of Chios for over twenty years, and the novelty of violent crime had long since worn off. He’d collected his share of teeth from barroom floors, driven the combatants to the hospital to be stitched up. The sight of blood no longer stirred him. It just made him tired.

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