An intricately crafted and immersive thriller set on the beautiful and mysterious island of Crete, The Threshing Circle by Neil Grimmett (@pensworthy) is a wonderful read, perfect for the beach, a rainy day, while traveling — any time, really. My review is based on a copy of the book provided by the author for that purpose.
Some stories are so universal the basic elements can be lifted from one locale and placed in another with little lost in the process. Not so with The Threshing Circle, which needs Crete like humans need water or oxygen. Part of Greek mythology, Crete was home to Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoan; was occupied but never truly conquered by the Myceneans, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, and Nazi Germany among others; and boasts a people fiercely proud of their heritage and vibrant culture.
Part of that culture includes the tradition of vendetta, blood feuds that can last generations and decimate families. It is this, the tradition of vendetta, which fuels much of the plot but Mr. Grimmett doesn’t ignore the other parts as he skillfully and respectfully weaves tradition, history, and a glimpse into the daily life of average Cretans into his tale. There is also some magic and mysticism, and having lived three years in a small Italian town I especially enjoyed spending more time in a society where the same people wielding the latest smartphones also make hand gestures to ward off evil.
And there is evil in this story, which opens during the Nazi Occupation in 1942 with the brutal murder of a young Englishwoman. Married to a leader of the Cretan Resistance and mother of his daughter, her death begins a mystery that won’t be solved for more than sixty years. The story shifts to the city of Chania in 2004 as Scottish ex-patriate and café owner Kirsty isn’t much enjoying her thirty-sixth birthday. She’s lonely and the only romantic attention the divorcee is getting is from her least favorite customer: Barba Yiorgos, an elderly but still handsome man respected by many but not Kirsty, who finds him boorish and spiteful.
Then she meets a English couple who say they’re honeymooning on Crete, but the more she interacts with the stunningly beautiful half-Greek woman and her Irish husband the less Kirsty believes them. While Kirsty begins to wonder what the couple is really doing on the island, Barba Yiorgos is sure he knows — and that knowledge eats at him as old family wounds are pulled open. When the couple disappears and the police won’t look into it, Kirsty must turn to the distasteful Barba Yiorgos for help in learning the truth.
To say much more than that would spoil the story for new readers. The plot moves at a deliberate pace in early chapters, but by the midpoint the action picks up as more and more of the puzzle begins to be revealed. Fair warning about later chapters: you may not be able to put the book down for long stretches. At times the author shifts the narrative perspective between Kirsty and Barba Yiorgos, which works very well to advance the plot naturally as each holds back information from the other. In this, Mr. Grimmett does a great job keeping everyone in character and realistically reacting to only what they know at that moment.
Finally, to address something other reviewers have noted. There are a few scenes containing content some readers may find objectionable, including sexual violence. Although I was discomfited at a couple points, I don’t believe the author included these scenes gratuitously. Again, these moments are infrequent and fit within the context of the story, but I know some readers prefer to avoid such content.
With The Threshing Circle you can explore a fabulous and exotic island, get to know interesting and well-drawn characters, and solve a complex mystery — all from the comfort of your armchair, beach blanket or seat on the train or plane. What isn’t to like about that? For more from this author, visit his website.