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The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby
Cover Artist: Stefano Vitale / Lindgren & Smith Inc.
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312599010
Date: 08 November 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Athens, Greece, 460 BC, young Nicolaos discovers that Thorion, a proxenos for Ephesus, has hung himself. Upon further investigation, he learns that this suspected traitor was hung by an assassin, Araxes, who stole a letter. Pericles sanctions Nicolaos to travel to Ephesus, a city in the province of Ionia, to retrieve the letter and learn who hired Araxes to kill Thorion. During his investigation, Nicolaos frees a slave girl, Asia, and vows to return her to her father, Themistocles, a famous traitor who fled Athens and now resides in Magnesia. Nicolaos also encounters Diotima who fled to Ephesus after he refused to marry her. At the home of Themistocles, Nicolaos discovers a weird family whose idiosyncrasies are often hilarious; however, none of them can be trusted because one member of the family is a ruthless killer.

Also by Gary Corby:
Athenian Mysteries:
* The Pericles Commission
* The Ionia Sanction
* Sacred Games
* The Marathon Conspiracy
* Death Ex Machina

Gary Corby's The Ionia Sanction is even more intriguing, more gruesome and more hilarious than his debut, The Pericles Commission. Nicolaos has led a relatively sheltered life in Athens where "a man is a child in the eyes of the law so long as his father lives". He still yearns to be an investigator and to marry his girlfriend Diotima despite his father's objections to both. Now, in order to solve the murder of Thorion, a type of modern consul who received correspondence from Ephesus, Nicolaos must travel to Ephesus where he experiences quite a culture shock. First, he sails aboard the fastest ship in the world, the Salaminia, equivalent to our Air Force One. He rides a horse for the first time. He also wears trousers for the first time instead of the white chiton, bleached in urine, that he normally wraps around himself. At the enormous Temple of Artemision, destined to become one of the seven wonders of the world, he encounters Diotima, along with the Megabyzoi, honored eunuchs, who make him nervous.

The history in The Ionia Sanction is quite interesting and disturbing. Readers should be warned that there is some graphic, torturous violence. Nicolaos bares witness to an anal impalement, which was still being practiced by the Persians though the Greeks had outlawed it as a cruel and unusual punishment. It preceded the crucifixion and, in my opinion, was more barbaric. There are other similar scenes where victims are chained to walls and their toes amputated in order to obtain the truth from them. Truly this was a barbaric time during which I am glad I did not live. However, there is a lot of comic relief throughout the novel. I sometimes laughed out loud. For example, there is the scene where Diotima and Nicolaos are trapped inside a bedroom closet and are forced to watch overweight Archeptolis and his voluptuous wife Mnesiptolema (who is also his half-sister) have kinky sex with whips and chains.

The Ionia Sanction is a riotous romp through ancient Greece. Lovers of history, especially of the ancient world, will definitely want to read this mystery. It is a fast-paced, easy-to-read novel. The characters speak as though they are living in present-day United States.

At the beginning of the novel, the author graciously provides The Actors, which is a cast of characters with pronunciations for each name. There are also two very helpful maps. The first one illustrates the voyage of the Salaminia from Athens to Ephesus; the second one illustrates the journey of Nicolaos's horse Ajax from Ephesus to Magnesia. At the end of the novel is the Author's Note, which is the most interesting part because it describes the characters, places, beliefs and customs that were based on historical fact. For example, Themistocles actually existed and he was considered a military genius, comparable to Sir Winston Churchill; Themistocles foresaw the Persian Wars whereas Churchill foresaw World War II. There is also a Note on Names, which describes the meaning of each character's name. For example, Nicolaos is Nike + Laos; Nike means victory and Laos means people, i.e., victory for the people. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment in this wonderful historical mystery series.

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