A successful Wall Street lawyer with his own law firm, born and bred in Pennsylvania with an everlasting desire to write books packs up his life, bids his law career farewell and moves to the Greek island of Mykonos where he begins a new chapter writing crime novels that are set all over Greece, weaving the issues facing modern Greek society into his suspenseful plots.
It sounds like the premise of a great page turner but this is not fiction. When Jeffrey Siger moved to Mykonos over 25 years ago it was love at first sight. With the place, the people, the culture. From his first step onto the tarmac, he felt instantly at home, and there’s been no looking back.
Titles such as Prey on Patmos, Murder in Mykonos, Devil in Delphi and Assassins of Athens were bound to be controversial, and while his decision to set his murder mysteries in Greece’s beautiful locations has resulted in death threats in the past, Greeks have come to embrace Siger and ultimately shower him with literary accolades, including winning numerous awards and being selected by the Greek Government’s General Secretariat of Media and Communications has selected to be one of six authors—and the only American—writing mysteries that serve as a guide to Greece.
Having just completed a book tour for An Aegean April he is taking a short breather before the launch of his tenth book, The Mykonos Mob. In the meantime, he makes a memorable appearance in the recently released short film by Billy Cotsis, Mykonos The Other Side where he is in his element discussing his love and connection to the island in a way which leaves the viewer wanting to hear more.
Instantly likable, with a fierce intellect that is simultaneously inspiring and admired through his prose and willingness to share his own story, GCT was fortunate to be able to secure some of Siger’s rare downtime to chat about his experience in law, his success as an author, creating protagonist Andreas Kaldis, his love of Greece and the insights he has gained on his incredible journey as an American crime novelist who calls Mykonos home.
Where were you born and raised and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I now spend half the year on Mykonos, and the balance in and around New York City when not traveling on a book tour.
Tell us about choosing to study law and working as a Wall Street lawyer?
For most of my youth I thought I would be a pediatrician, but in college, I became fascinated with political science and told my father I had decided instead to become a university professor. His simple response was, “And what do you intend to do to afford to eat?” So I compromised and went to law school. I was more amazed than anyone when I was offered a position with a Wall Street law firm. I took it, and it changed my life. Serendipitously, it also allowed me to achieve my college teaching goal, albeit as an adjunct professor of English teaching mystery writing.
What was your favourite aspect of being a Wall Street lawyer?
It gave me the opportunity of first-hand involvement in matters making front page news. I learned that all that was reported was not necessarily accurate (we’re not talking fake news here), and that those who commanded so much public adulation were just as fallible and confused as the rest of us.
How did you make the decision to swap careers and become an author?
It happened once I realized I would not live forever, and that my desire to write could only be achieved if I threw myself totally into my craft. So, I took the plunge, fully cognizant that in one-year as a lawyer I’d likely earn as much as I’d make in my entire career as a writer. Yes, for most, writing is a lousy way to make a living, but it’s also a wonderful way to make a life.
When you decided you were going to be an author had you already made up your mind that your novels would be set in Greece?
I wrote my first two novels while still practicing law in New York City, and they were what we call “drawer novels,” as they will forever remain in a drawer. They touched upon Greece, but when I finally made the decision to jump full time into writing I did so with the intention of writing a story that told the truth about the societal, political and cultural norms of an island I knew well Mykonos. When I started writing about Andreas Kaldis, I didn’t intend on becoming a chronicler of Greece’s trials and tribulations. But with the success of my debut novel, things just sort of took off from there.
Greece is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, the bridge between East and West. Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, and Trojan intrigue all call it home. To understand what about Greece tantalizes me as a mystery-thriller writer, simply look at a map. I work on the edge of societal change, and virtually all of the great issues confronting our modern world are centered in Greece’s Mediterranean neighborhood. Indeed, I’d venture to say no western country is closer to what challenges our planet than Greece.
I first went to Greece 35 years ago, and only wish I’d come sooner.
What was the inspiration behind your protagonist Andreas?
We all know the story of Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus. I’d like to say Andreas Kaldis sprang from my mind in much the same manner, but my friends are quick to tell me that he possesses my sense of humor and way of addressing problems, plus bears an uncanny physical resemblance to a good buddy of mine on Mykonos named Andreas.
Personally, I prefer the myth version.
You have reached the 9th book in the series- how easy have you found it to create these stories, and are they connected to cases you were exposed to in your law career?
I’ve actually just finished number 10, coming in April 2019, titled “The Mykonos Mob.” I do a book a year and gain my inspiration from the strangest sources, often unexpected. None has come from my career in the law, though some characters and scenes do relate back to those days. Bizarrely, more often than not my fictional plots have a tendency to come true. For example, my second novel in the series, “Assassins of Athens” featured a character in the mold of Greece’s current Prime Minister Tsipras years before his rise to power, and my third book, “Prey on Patmos,” anticipated by seven years the current turmoil involving Mt. Athos, the Russian government, and the Patriarch in Constantinople.
Do you have a personal favourite out of all your books?
That’s sort of like asking one to choose a favorite among one’s children, but if pressed, I’d have to go with the baby in the family, #9, AN AEGEAN APRIL. I’m particularly proud of it for two reasons: the hard look it takes at the many sides of the refugee/migrant crisis haunting the Eastern Mediterranean, and the number of people intimately familiar with the situation on Lesvos where the novel is based, who've let me know how much they enjoyed it.
Tell us about writing An Aegean April and your recent book tour?
It was a tough one to write because I knew I had to get it right. I spoke to Members of Parliament, Government Ministers, Coast Guard officials, media, NGO representatives, refugees, and locals, to obtain their perspectives on this humanitarian crisis. I’m proud to say that on the book tour it was very well received and several highly regarded reviewers consider it among the best books of 2018.
Why Mykonos? And what is it like for an American to become a Mykonian local?
A friend had suggested that I visit Greece. She felt I’d love it there. And she was right. From the moment I stepped onto the tarmac at the Mykonos airport, I felt as if I were home. That very first day I happened to pass by a jewelry shop on my way into town from my hotel, and though I forget how the proprietor lured me inside, the next thing I knew I was (unsuccessfully) dodging drinks, pastries, and candies.
Unbeknownst to me, I’d stumbled upon the most loved man on Mykonos. A consummate gentleman and fervent booster of the island, he had an extraordinary circle of local, national and international friends, all of whom made a point of regularly stopping by to say hello to him. Over the years we developed a deep friendship, sharing our birthday parties, watching out for each other’s children, and attending together many a Mykonian panigyri, concert, baptism, wedding, and funeral. Without my realizing it, he’d subtly turned me into a Mykonian—or at least as close to that elevated status as a non-Greek American could hope to achieve.
What do you love most about Greece? And about Mykonos?
Without question, the people. I feel more at home there than anywhere else on the planet…and that’s all because of the people.
Has anything surprised you in terms of reaction to all your books?
Just about everything! I’ve been blessed with great praise from the Greek media on what I’ve had to say about Greek society. Greece’s Esquire wrote “With ten million Greeks out there, one-half thinking they’re writers, why did it take a foreigner to write this book.”. Some even call me “prophetic,” and The New York Times has described my series as “thoughtful police procedurals” set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales.” Unquestionably all of that is a great honor, but to be honest, how I do it is a phenomenon I don’t fully understand. Perhaps because I’m a foreigner writing in a land where I did not grow up, I have the advantage of viewing things without the preconceived notions and biases that come with being native to a culture.
What inspires you?
That’s so hard to say. It can be a phrase, an image, or just a seemingly passing random thought that somehow turns into inspiration amid the mysterious alchemy that arises when trying to put ideas onto paper.
What is one piece of advice that has stayed with you?
“Don’t take cheap shots.” I never did as a lawyer, and don’t do it as a writer. I think that’s a major reason for why, as critical as my work might be at times, it is accepted by those I write about.
Tell us about Murder in Mykonos?
I’d always wanted to write a book about Mykonos. At the time, I’d lived and visited there for 25 years, but I didn’t want to write about pelicans, flowers, and summer Greek tavernas. I wanted to write action and mystery, in a dynamite story that would allow me to make Mykonos a character in the book, one that would show all the things I loved about it. Something that would take the reader behind the scenes to see the Mykonos I knew, something tourists, even off-island Greeks never saw.
But I just couldn’t come up with a plot that appealed to me. Then one day it hit me: A young woman on holiday to Mykonos disappears off the face of the earth, and no one notices. That is until a body turns up on top of a pile of bones under a remote mountain church and the new police chief, Andreas Kaldis, a young politically incorrect, former Athens cop starts finding bodies bones and suspects everywhere he looks. It’s Greece’s most unimaginable nightmare and one no politician wants to confront, but then another young woman disappears and Andreas is off on a rescue chase into forgotten island places and ancient myths to rescue a victim who’s one tough cookie in her own right.
In other words, I turned my lovely Mamma Mia island into NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
Which accolade (either in Greece or abroad) made the biggest impact on you?
In truth, there are two, one distant and one recent. The first, when I learned that my debut novel, “Murder in Mykonos,” was the #1 best selling English language book in Greece (plus listed among the top-five Greek language best sellers) and had hit “The New York Times” radar list of best sellers. The second occurred just a couple months ago when the “Sunday New York Times Book Review” designated me as Greece’s thriller writer of record.
What do you hope readers get out of your books?
A better understanding of what Greece is about, despite its challenges, and the magic of it all.
What is your wish for Greece?
Better times befitting the people who have borne a decade of extraordinarily difficult times.
What would you like to write about next?
The new Golden Age of Greece.