Everywhere, the Juntas come and go, the dictatorships, the coups, the countercoups, the restorations to civilian rule. Trying to follow the revolutions of the Right is like watching shadow puppets.
John Harvey's fine novel explores changes in the life of an extended Greek family from the coup of the colonels in 1967 to the end of the dictatorships in 1974. The breadth of the family strains our credulity, as perhaps it must to encompass so much of a complex society: One of two brothers-in-law is a lawyer opposing the regime, the other is an ambitious undersecretary in the regime; the son of the undersecretary is a gradually radicalized student; the father of the two sisters is a slightly batty merchant whose misadventures (stocking up on plastic pails and toys at the end of the beach season, buying shares in a ferry) blend pathos and black comedy. After the lawyer is imprisoned, he, his lovely wife Chryssa, and an English journalist named Michael become a triangle reminiscent of Rick, Victor Laszlo and Ilsa in "Casablanca."
The strength of "Coup d'Etat" is Harvey's well-crafted prose. The trials of Vangelis, the lawyer who is subjected to the exquisite torture reserved for opponents of the regime, are too often rendered in a breathless Joycean internal monologue, but the eye is observant and understanding. In the midst of a torture session, when the blows suddenly stop, Vangelis finds himself tracing the curved lines around the edge of a metal tray.