First published in 2010, The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi is the fourth of her Seven Deadly Sins Mysteries. 2014 marks the premiere North American edition of the book.
There is a legend that in1863, a group of sailors is saved from a terrible storm when The Virgin Mary appears in human form to guide them to safety to the Greek Island of Kalkos. Left in her place is a beautiful icon. It was a miracle!
A church is erected in her honour, and the holy icon is displayed for over a century as a gift from God, to protect the faithful and work miracles.
One of the rescued men decides to honour Our Lady by learning the meticulous work of icon painting, a venerated skill which is passed down through generations, from father to son.
In present day Kalkos, a young child almost drowns while trying to swim for help for his ailing grandfather who is the town's revered icon painter.
While the town busies itself for a solemn ceremony, “the fat man” Athenian Hermes Diaktoros arrives on the scene. Diaktoros himself is surrounded by mystery. You never know quite who he is, beyond having power, money and employers who are “higher authorities concerned with justice”. (Perhaps previous Seven Deadly Sins Mysteries provide clues.)
Hermes is a quiet but thorough presence who involves himself in the town drama in an effective and almost subtle way. He ventures to the coffee shop to question locals about the icon, and heads to her namesake church. Upon his examination of the actual piece, he determines it to be a forgery, and surmises that the original has long since been stolen.
The reader thinks this is the start of an investigation, but Hermes elects to leave that diversion to someone else.
The Lady of Sorrows starts out about a stolen icon, but ends up being much more complicated. Mysteries abound regarding the theft, secrets preserved by the church, a family's disturbing past, ancient coins, and the scent of lemons. All ties together eventually.
Zouroudi provides great attention to detail, in wonderful descriptions of daily Grecian life. Lovely, colourful and realistic, it enjoyably transports the reader to a different pace and way of life. At times, however, the minutia of eating, drinking, family times and dialogue overshadows the novel's momentum.
Never being mentioned, it is not clear to which of the Seven Deadly Sins this novel refers, although the plot certainly opens itself up to multiple choices and reader speculation.
The book mixes superstition with religious devotion and daily life. Much unfolds at a relaxed pace. Despite, or maybe even because of a lot happening, the many tangential yet interrelated stories cloud the identity of a strong plot, and in this reader's opinion, leave The Lady of Sorrows somewhat less engaging than one had hoped.