The Pericles Commission
by Gary Corby
Cover Artist: Stefano Vitaie / Lindgren & Smith, Inc.
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312599027
Date: 09 November 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Athens, Greece, 461 BC, young Nicolaos discovers the corpse of Ephialtes who has been shot by an assassin's arrow. Ephialtes is the politician who brought democracy to Athens. With his death, democracy will fail and the corrupt Council of the Areopagus will rule once again. However, Nicolaos, who yearns to be a politician rather than a sculptor, is commissioned by Pericles to find whoever is responsible for Ephialtes's assassination. A bloodbath ensues as anyone associated with the plot to overthrow Athens's government is butchered. Nicolaos finds his life and the lives of his family and friends in danger.
Gary Corby's The Pericles Commission is a superb historical political thriller set in ancient Greece. Based on actual events and characters, this novel is a complex, intriguing potboiler that will hold the reader captive to the last page. This bloody, action-packed thriller also has strong elements of humor and romance. For example, during the stressful court proceedings, Euterpe, a beautiful prostitute, bares her breasts in order to sway the all-male jury. During his investigation, Nicolaos falls in love with Euterpe's daughter, Diotima.
All the major characters actually existed in real life except for our resident hero, Nicolaos. In ancient Athens, your career and spouse are preordained. However, Nicolaos, a fine young man who loves his family and country, refuses to submit to fate; he strives to become a politician, rather than a sculptor, and bravely defies the wishes of his father, Sophroniscus. Women in Greece are treated as property and they have even less opportunities than the men. However, the rebellious Diotima works hard to become a priestess of the Temple of Artemis in order to enjoy more freedom than the average wife; also, she refuses to marry Rizon, the only male relative of the slain Ephialtes.
Ancient Greece is vividly portrayed in all its beauty and cruelty. Athens, where the physique is worshiped, has many gyms. Clay pottery is the chief export. Corn is imported, but not nearly enough to feed its teeming population. Most slaves are worked to death; killing one is equal to destruction of property and is punishable with a fine. Women can not own property; they can not freely move in public and socialize with men. Euterpe, a hetaera (or courtesan, equivalent to our modern high-price prostitute) has more freedoms than a married woman. Slow death by crucifixion is a common form of capital punishment. Most horrid was the treatment of unwanted babies. They are left on a hill to die of exposure, stuffed inside an urn at a cemetery or, worse yet, thrown down a well.
The mystery itself is an intricate, multi-layered one that I was unable to solve on my own. Because he was a politician, Ephialtes had a lot of enemies. Numerous members of the Council of Areopagus wanted him dead in order to restore their governing power. He'd exiled his predecessor, Themistocles. The Great King of Persia, always desirous of conquering Athens, could've sent an assassin to slay him. Ephialtes's own wife, the insane Stratonike, could've killed him during one of her uncontrollable rages. There are other suspects, including the politician who hired Nicolaos, Pericles himself.
The reader will be thankful that the author added various supplements to make the novel easier to read and understand. First, there is a timeline which lists in chronological order the actual historical events that led to the rise of democracy in Athens. Second, I am most grateful for the list of actors which provides the correct pronunciations for each character's name. Third, there is a glossary which defines many terms (clothing, locales, politics, etc.). Fourth, and most importantly, is the author's note on what events and characters were actually real and how his fictional novel relates to them. The real Ephialtes was also murdered; however those responsible were never brought to justice.
Fans of historical mysteries, especially those set in ancient times, will enjoy Gary Corby's The Pericles Commission. An action-packed political thriller with a high body count, Aladdin-type romance and intrigue, an emphasis on family loyalty, ribald humor and plenty of blood and gore, The Pericles Commission is the awesome beginning for a new mystery series. The author has already revealed that he is working on a sequel in which Nicolaos and his trusty sidekick, Diotima, travel into the treacherous Persian empire to speak with Themistocles and prevent the destruction of Athens.
From: Peggy Baker:
Excellent review of this debut. I'm hoping Corby plans a loooong series. Especially liked gaining so much knowledge of Athens and its place in world civilation, and it didn't seem forced, either.