Overcast Sunday by Christodoulos Moisa – 2016

Overcast SundayWell I was hoping there was going to be a good murder mystery in here somewhere – buried beneath at least two history books, one books of Greek philosophy and a small collection of extremely offensive Greek proverbs.  Moisa tells the reader up front what his novel does (never a good sign): “It explores the clash of mores as an outer majority, and inner-minority communities try to adjust to a near violent past and a prospering post-war economy”.  The setting is very promising; post-Second World War Wellington as experienced by the Greek and Cypriot communities, many of whose members are still suffering the effects of the war and the various other conflicts affecting Greece and Cyprus.  A fascinating period in New Zealand history and a complex migrant group – Greeks and Cypriots having different immigrant statuses.  And lots of the establishments named in the book were familiar to me from my Wellington childhood, and I would have enjoyed reading more of their owners and patrons.  Overcast Sunday has two main protagonists: Hari, a haunted war veteran and university student who at one time intended to become a priest, and who is now working for a tailor.  And Jimmy, also a veteran and a bit of a lad about town, with a reputation that makes him not that popular with many in his community.  The novel opens with Jimmy discovering the body of a young girl outside the Wellington Greek club – OK – but then we start to meet the various characters major and minor inside the Club.  And as each character appears he is introduced with a long history of his difficult past and how he ended up in New Zealand, and details of the wider political context of his history, all of which is exposition and not folded into the narrative.  These historical lectures require jumping about all over the place timewise – and remember this is while a young girl lies dead in an alley outside.  And such disrespect is not all that out of place given the misogynist banter inside the club.   When a short time later Jimmy and Hari are taken in by the police under suspicion of having something to do with the murder, I thought things were finally going to come together and the narrative would really get going.  But alas there is just more historical paragraphs triggered by more characters or snippets of information.  And there is no real murder mystery, just a death and a sad explanation.  And the latter nothing to get that distracted by, after all she was only “the town bicycle”.  I was obviously not the intended audience for this book, but it is hard to say who would be.  Those interested in the fascinating history of the period and the migrant group might enjoy the straight-out history – which makes up about 80% of the book.  But I have read lots of riveting fiction where you can enjoy the story while absorbing the history – and try to work out a mystery along the way.  This certainly isn’t one of those books.

 

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