When The Devil’s Idle, by Leta Serafim: The Death of an Old Man Brings a Dark Past to Light

when_idleWhen the Devil’s Idle ($13.95, 192 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-998-5) is the second book in Leta Serafim’s Greek Islands Mystery series. While investigating the death of a German tourist on Patmos, Chief Officer Patronas uncovers terrible secrets.

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Book 1, The Devil Takes Half, was a finalist in the mystery category of the Eric Hoffer Awards and received a starred review from Library Journal.

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(Starred Review) “This classic fair-play whodunit, the excellent sequel to 2014’s The Devil Takes Half (Serafim’s first Greek Island mystery), takes Yiannis Patronas, the endearing chief police officer on the island of Chios, to Patmos, where someone has bashed in the skull of Walter Bechtel, a 90-year-old German, in the garden of his foster son Gunther’s holiday residence—and carved a swastika on the victim’s forehead. When Patronas asks Gunther about his foster father’s past, Gunther becomes defensive and claims that his papa was ‘just an ordinary man’ and did not commit any atrocities during WWII. Serafim does an especially good job of integrating Greece’s current financial struggles into the story line, and Patronas’s colleagues, especially an eccentric priest with a taste for seafood, lighten what otherwise could have been a very grim tale without minimizing the underlying horror of the background to the crime.”

—Publishers Weekly, August 3, 2015

4 Stars: “The pairing of cynical Patronas and optimistic Michalis injects some humor in an otherwise moderately paced procedural. 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

“Patronas, recently freed from a stifling marriage, has taken on Papa Michalis as a roommate, discovering that his enormous appetite for seafood is taking a toll on his reduced finances due to the financial crisis cutbacks to police salaries. The two form an endearing investigative team in this very enjoyable second in the Greek Island mysteries.”  Read more….

—Stop You’re Killing Me!

“This novel’s attraction lies in Serafim’s portrayal of life in modern Greece and the complex relationships between Yiannis and those around him. Serafim deftly weaves Greece’s debt crisis into the plot, and provides readers with fully-developed, complex characters. She lightens a grim plotline with the interactions between Yiannis and Papa Michalis.” Read more….

—Mark Lardas, The Galveston County Daily News

If you enjoy mystery and murder this is a rare find. The descriptions of Greece are wonderful and help to take you there as you journey into the horror and history of the Nazi regime. This would be a great book for a reading club with a great deal of background to decipher.  Read more….

—Leslie Ann Wright, Wrighton-Time Blogspot

“A deftly crafted and thoroughly absorbing read from beginning to end, When the Devil’s Idle is a compelling and very highly recommended addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections…. Also very highly recommended is the first volume in this outstanding series, The Devil Takes Half. Appreciative readers will all be looking eagerly toward author Leta Serafim’s next title in her Greek Island Mystery series.”  Read more….

—Julie Summers, Reviewer, The Midwest Book Review

“Let me be honest. I don’t usually like novels I can’t identify with. So I expected to be bored by this story. I thought it would be a lot of background of Greek history, mythology and religion. Greece never interested me. I never would want to go there. So I was taken by surprise by the author, Leta Serafim’s seduction of my senses. She so deftly interwove the background into the story that I craved to learn more…. I won’t spoil the plot for you. Tracking down the history of the victim and Maria will hook you….. You will enjoy every well-crafted word in When the Devil’s Idle.”  Read more….

—Faith Flaherty, The One True Faith Blogspot

When The Devil’s Idle is set in Greece with interesting characters and a wonderful glimpse at Greece’s culture. The main character Patronas was quite likable and a bit comical despite the seriousness of the situation he and his fellow policemen were investigating. He was a great character to keep the book interesting and moving along.”  Read more….

—Silver’s Reviews

“I enjoyed following the journey of the investigation and how it led Yannis to the horrible truth. I always relish a good mystery and this one certainly delivered on all counts.”  Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

When The Devil’s Idle 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 and I am already looking forward to the next book in the series.”  Read more….

—Vic’s Media Room

In the Book of Revelation, written by St. John on the Greek island of Patmos, it was said a pale horse would appear whose rider was death, others would cry out for vengeance, and the stars of heaven would fall to the earth.

Death does indeed come to Patmos when a German tourist is found murdered in the garden of one of the island’s fabled estates. Yiannis Patronas, Chief Officer of the Chios police, is called in to investigate. He summons his top detective, Giorgos Tembelos, and his friend and amateur sleuth, Papa Michalis, to assist him.

What the policemen discover will disturb them long after the conclusion of the case. Only six people were at the house at the time of the murder—the gardener and housekeeper, the victim’s son and his wife and their two children, a boy of seven and a teenage girl of sixteen. All appear to be innocent. But access to the isolated estate is severely restricted. Surrounded by high walls, it has only one entrance: a metal gate that was bolted at the time of the crime. Patronas can only conclude that one of the six is a killer. He continues to probe, uncovering the family’s many secrets. Some are very old, others more recent. All are horrifying.

But which of these secrets led to murder?

Says the author, “I have visited Patmos many times and have always found it to be a place of contrasts, the enclave of extraordinarily wealthy Europeans at the top of a mountain in Chora and the Greek natives struggling to survive in the village below. I used to watch these two groups interact and wonder what would happen if violence intruded. Voted the most idyllic place to live in Europe by Forbes in 2009, the island itself is very small, less than thirteen square miles, and has only 3,000 year-round residents. It is called ‘the holy island,’ by many, in marked contrast with the characters and events I describe in When the Devil is Idle.”

Leta Serafim is also the author of the historical novel, To Look on Death No More, which will be published by Coffeetown Press in February, 2016. 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 police cruiser arrived later that day and Giorgos Tembelos and Papa Michalis disembarked, the priest inching down the ramp like a tortoise.

“I think the identity of the old man is the key,” Papa Michalis announced when they’d all gathered in a taverna to review the case. “I analyzed it and that is my conclusion. It simply cannot be anything else. It has elements of an Agatha Christie story, one of her locked-room mysteries like And Then There Was None. Nobody else had access; ergo, one of the people inside the estate, a family member or a servant, must be the guilty party.”

“Anyone could have gained access,” Patronas pointed out. “The Bechtels were careless. They didn’t keep the door locked and there were keys lying around everywhere.”

“No matter. It’s got to be one of them. We can interview other people forever, but it will eventually come back to them. Them and them alone.”

“I think Father is right,” Tembelos said. “The identity of the victim is the important thing here. There was nothing about him in any of the European databases I checked. I called our counterparts in Germany and asked them to run him through their system, but I doubt they’ll find anything. It’s like he never existed. We need to establish who he was. Could be he changed his name.”

“Why would he change his name?” Patronas wondered.

“I don’t know. “

The four of them were sitting outside by the water, it being too hot to venture inside. A haze hung over the sea, and the air was very still. Suddenly, a soft breeze rose up and stirred the tamarisk trees that lined the shore, setting their feathery branches in motion. Patronas liked the rustling sound the trees made, the relief the wind brought. It was almost as if he could hear the earth breathe.

I’ll go swimming tonight, he told himself, looking out at the harbor. Float on my back and look up at the stars. Frolic like a dolphin.

Maybe he’d ask Antigone Balis to join him. He pictured her dripping wet, that long hair of hers hanging down over one shoulder like Botticelli’s Venus. Adrift in his vision, he subsequently lost track of the conversation.

“Hey, boss, you with us?” Tembelos nudged him with his elbow.

Patronas made a show of straightening his back, stretching. “Sorry, it’s the heat. Always makes me sleepy.”

“You were grinning.”

“So what if I was? A man’s allowed to grin.”

“I don’t know, Yiannis,” the priest said. “I think when one is discussing a homicide, it might be better if one dispensed with grinning. At such a time, such behavior is unseemly. It makes one appear insensitive at the very least.”

“Thank you for that, Father. In the future, I will dispense with grinning.” He tapped his pencil on his notebook. “So, to sum up, we have nothing concrete in the case, no witnesses or physical evidence, nothing that will lead us to the killer.”

“Gardener’s clean,” Tembelos reported. “I ran his fingerprints and there was nothing. There was a match on the shoes, too, exactly like he told us.”

“What about the housekeeper, Maria Georgiou?”

“Same thing. The case is heating up. If we don’t catch the killer, it could get ugly. Ministry’s already clamoring for action.”

“We need to turn the housekeeper, Maria Georgiou, inside out, also the members of the family,” Patronas said. “Check their history. Something’s going on here, but as of yet, I haven’t established what it is.”

“You can’t rule out a random act of violence,” the priest said, “directed at them because of their nationality.”

“Worse would be if it were a case of mistaken identity,” Patronas said, “the killer targeting the owners—the Bauers—and killing one of their guests by mistake.”

He was thinking of Charlie Manson, who along with his disciples had wiped out six people without blinking an eye, not realizing his intended victim was a subletter. “Personally, I think someone targeted the family for reasons we don’t know. The cat, the old man. It stands to reason.”

“I’d start with the housekeeper,” Tembelos said. “What she said doesn’t add up. That bit about coming to Patmos on holiday and staying on as a maid.”

“Unlikely, Giorgos. She’s in her seventies.”

Papa Michalis continued to promote the locked room concept. Citing a case in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, he described how the killer had released a cobra through a fake vent and activated its poisonous energy by whistling. “ ‘Oh, my God, it was the band,’ the victim shouted, ‘the speckled band.’ ”

“Fiction, Father, fiction,” Patronas said impatiently. “Remember? We discussed it.”

“My point is if you are determined to kill someone, a lock is no deterrent. Sometimes murderers are ingenious. Using a cobra as a murder weapon is brilliant when you think about it. Absolutely brilliant. No fingerprints involved, no way to trace it back to you. The snake does all the work.”

“I repeat, Father, there is no snake involved here. A stone maybe, but no snake.”

“A stone? What makes you think that?”

And around they went again, weighing the possibilities. The victim had been hit on the head, but with what? A hammer or a rock? A shovel or pickax? Rock, scissors, paper.

Forget swimming, Patronas told himself. I might as well drown myself.

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