From the Devil’s Farm, by Leta Serafim: A Ritual Sacrifice on the Isle of Sifnos

Devils_farmFrom the Devil’s Farm ($14.95, 208 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-244-3), is the third book in Leta Serafim’s Greek Islands Mystery series. The discovery of a murdered child on Sifnos saddens Chief Officer Patronas and his colleagues, who are at a loss for a viable suspect among the migrants that crowd the island or the Greek nationals who resent their presence.

“Serafim grounds her tale in Greek history, ancient and present, and provides a brutal and effective resolution to the case that will surprise most readers.”
—Publishers Weekly

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“As with Serafim’s previous mysteries, From the Devil’s Farm combines a clever mystery, a spectacular setting (the island of Sifnos), and Greek culture with a good dose of humor mixed in. The tale takes readers from the Greek Islands to Athens and Turkey as the solution unfolds. Throw in romance as Patronas finds himself attracted to a pretty, redheaded pottery instructor, and the result is an enormously entertaining story.”  Read more….

—Mark Lardas, The Daily News, Galveston County

“Serafim deftly weaves police procedural with a visceral sense of place and a deeply rooted knowledge of Greek history and culture. [….] Atheist Patronas’ interplay with Papa Michalis (“the old fellow who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes”) and the ethical dilemmas faced in dispensing justice are richly rewarding. [….] Another epitychia (success) in this Greek mystery series.”

—Kirkus Reviews

The first two books of the series have received high praise from both critics and readers. The Devil Takes Half was a finalist in the mystery category of the Eric Hoffer Awards.

When the Devil’s Idle: (Starred Review) “Excellent sequel to The Devil Takes Half.” —Publishers Weekly

4 Stars: “Serafim expertly creates the beauty of Greece. However, the real draws of this book are the fully developed, complex characters, and the facts on Greek culture and history. Book two in the Greek Islands Mystery series is sure to satisfy.” —RT Magazine

The Devil Takes Half: (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

“[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

A Greek American tourist, Lydia Pappas, stumbles upon a child’s body in the ruins of an ancient temple, well hidden on the top of a cliff. The boy has been bled dry, though no blood is in evidence, leading the Greek police investigator, Yiannis Patronas, to believe the killer must have collected it. Greece’s financial crisis has reduced the police force on Sifnos to one officer, Petros Nikolaidis, so Patronas has been summoned from his home base of Chios to aid in the case. Accompanying him are his colleagues, Giorgos Tembelos and Evangelos Demos, as well as Papa Michalis, an ancient Orthodox priest with a vast knowledge of detective fiction and an uncanny ability to ferret out the truth. Though eccentric and often irritating, Michalis has been an asset to Patronas over the years in a land where homicide was, until recently, a rare occurrence. But Greece is changing daily, with a tide of migrants straining the country’s already diminished resources and occasionally bringing out the worst in her people.

The child appears to have been sacrificed according to the rules of a pagan religious ritual. Is someone on Sifnos reviving the old ways? Or is there a thrill killer loose on the island? Is the culprit a Greek national or one of the many foreign migrants crowding its refugee camps?

Says the author, “When I first visited Sifnos years ago, I was struck by the almost ethereal beauty of the island, the purity of its whitewashed villages and the lives of its residents, whose days were taken up with family and the rituals of the Orthodox Church. Sadly Sifnos, like the rest of Greece, is no longer the utopia I remember and has entered the modern age with all its attendant problems. I wrote From the Devil’s Farm in part to explore the dichotomy between the two—the idyllic past and the island’s troubled and uncertain future.”

Leta Serafim is also the author of the historical novel, To Look on Death No More. She has visited over twenty-five islands in Greece and continues to divide her time between Boston and Greece. Click here to find her online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

The priest’s lengthy robe was giving him trouble and he paused for a moment to tuck a portion of it up into his voluminous drawers, exposing his heavy orthopedic shoes and long black socks held in place around his spindly calves by hideous old-fashioned garters.

Patronas looked away, embarrassed for his friend. Normally, he would have made fun of him—the garters alone demanded it, and those drawers, Mother of God, were the size of bed sheets—but today his mind was elsewhere. “I’m worried about this one,” he said.

“As am I,” Papa Michalis said. “The killing of a child? It is an abomination. Who could have done such a thing?”

“A psychopath, maybe.”

“Yes, yes. Someone like Ted Bundy.” Papa Michalis continued in this vein for a few minutes, enumerating the sins of Ted Bundy, who if he was to be believed, had murdered at least fourteen young women and as many as a hundred.

Patronas was sorry he’d brought it up. His friend was fascinated by serial killers and could go on at length, recounting their misdeeds in grisly detail. The names of the men Jeffrey Dahmer had eaten, for example, and which limb he’d usually started with. Or the fact that Jack the Ripper had extracted a kidney from one of his victims and mailed it to a newspaper. While Patronas understood that such people were a challenge for a priest—it was a thorny theological question: how does one forgive the unforgiveable?—he wished his friend would find another hobby. Collecting stamps, maybe.

“However, Bundy didn’t kill children,” the priest was saying. “I fear what we’re after is someone far worse, with the means to lure a child here and slaughter him.”

Papa Michalis fancied himself a great crime stopper, the true heir to Sherlock Holmes, but he tended to get carried away. Today was no exception.

Patronas waved him off. “We will go where the evidence leads us, Father. And I seriously doubt it will lead us to someone worse than Ted Bundy.”

“Bah, that’s what you think. There is evil alive in the universe, Yiannis, and you and I, I fear, are about to enter one of its lairs. To pass through a dark portal into hell itself. ”

As inevitably happened once he got going, the priest continued to speculate—brevity was a concept Papa Michalis had no use for—about the nature of the evil. As was his wont, he thundered off in the wrong direction—that of fiction and fantasy and bad American television shows.

Later Patronas would recall the conversation. Papa Michalis had been onto something that morning in Sifnos; he just hadn’t realized it at the time. Evil was indeed alive in the universe, and like fear, it was contagious and sometimes infected whole groups, spreading like a malignant virus, a contagion of violence and misery.

Ahead, the lava that formed Thanatos shone dully in the sun. A staircase had been cut into the rock, so steep it had been like climbing a ladder. Patronas paused to catch his breath. Nikolaidis and the other men had already reached the top and called down to him to hurry. The steps were deeply worn, cratered from centuries of use. Bending down, he touched one with his hand.

Swab it for DNA, you’d probably find Cain and Abel’s.

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