Update: Comments closed, winner selected!
Here I insert my standard disclaimer: I target my book reviews to novelists.
Also, if you would like to win a FREE copy of The Pericles Commission, comment on this post. I will select a commenter at random and mail you the copy. You need only to have a valid postal address somewhere in the world. The contest ends December 13 at noon, Pacific Time.
The Pericles Commission is a wonderful debut novel by researcher and writer Gary Corby. A murder mystery set in ancient Greece, the novel is also a political thriller, a coming-of-age-story and a cultural study all in one tight, little, whirlwind package of historical mystery goodness.
And Corby pulls it off masterfully.
Thus, I give you a disclaimer. If you are a novelist who likes to write murder mysteries (as I do), this book will make your head spin. Corby’s artistic creativity at putting a mystery together has the capability of frying your poor writer brain if you attempt to deconstruct the novel beyond its entertainment value.
The plot goes like this:
Early one bright, clear morning in Athens, 461 B.C., a dead man falls from the sky, landing at the feet of Nicolaos.
It doesn’t normally rain corpses. This one is the politician Ephialtes, who only days before had turned Athens into a democracy, and with it, kick-started western civilization. It looks very much as if Ephialtes was assassinated to stifle the world’s first democracy at its birth.
But Ephialtes has a lieutenant: a rising young politician by the name of Pericles. Pericles commissions the clever young Nicolaos to expose the assassin.
Nicolaos walks the mean streets of classical Athens in search of a killer. He’s totally confident he’ll succeed in finding him.
There are only a few small problems. Pericles is looking over his shoulder, critiquing his every move. Nicolaos would like to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis. He’d prefer not to go near Pythax, the brutally tough chief of the city guard. It would definitely help if the main suspect weren’t Xanthippus, a leading conservative and, worst of all, the father of Pericles.
But most of all, what Nicolaos really needs is to shake off his irritating twelve-year-old brother, Socrates, who keeps making helpful suggestions.
Can Nicolaos save Athens, democracy, and the future of western civilization?
Oh, how I loved Nicolaos, and Corby’s voicing with his main character leaves a reader not so much seeing the wonders of ancient Greece through his eyes, but living it in a visceral, immersive escapism that I had not experienced in a murder mystery since Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime.
There is a certain purity in murder mysteries. There’s a dead body. Sometimes more. The stakes are high, and beyond the expert voicing and characterization, the gem of The Pericles Commission is its sheer relentlessness. For this novel is relentless in the stakes. Corby ratchets them up again and again and again until a reader is left almost panting with tension, reading furiously as nothing so much as the fate of humanity is on the line.
This novel happily dances around thriller territory and simply calling it a historical murder mystery is an understatement. If you are a writer, don’t let the fabulous research blind you, or the mesmerizing voicing nor the purity of how the setting comes alive. Never has a historical book been so much fun to read. It was intelligent escapism at its highest form, and that, dear writers, was simply awesome. The Pericles Commission is not so much a novel as it is crack for mystery lovers.
Don’t forget to comment below to win a chance at a free copy!