The Singer from Memphis (Athenian Mystery)
by Gary Corby
Cover Artist: Stefano Vitale
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616956684
Date: 17 May 2016 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Gary Corby's latest adventure, The Singer from Memphis, is the most incredible of all his Athenian Mysteries. Nico and his wife, Diotima, a priestess, must constantly face death as they travel throughout the Dark Land of Egypt. The Egyptian government, consisting of a diabolical group of men known as the Public Service, tries to kill Nico and his friends. Also trying to kill him is his arch enemy, Markos, a Spartan assassin; he was recently released from prison. Pirate ships try to ram and board the Dolphin upon which Nico is traveling to Egypt. The crocodile-infested Nile and a desert sandstorm, lasting three days, also try to claim Nico's life.
A most unusual assortment of characters travels with Nico and Diotima. They include: Barzanes, he is the Eyes and Ears of the Great King of Persia, Artaxerxes (Artaxerxes exalted himself as a god in the hit movie 300.); Max (short for Maxyates), he is a tall, nearly naked man who has dyed his skin red, shaved one half of his head and claims to be a descendant of the lost city of Troy; Djanet, she is a tavern singer from Memphis and a secret agent; and Herodotus, he is the first historian writer who is intent on chronicling their journey. Markos eventually joins the group after a truce is made between Nico, Barzanes and himself.
Despite the fact that the setting is 456 BC, Egypt, the novel reads as though it was set today in the modern USA. It is an easy, highly enjoyable read. Nico is hilarious and it was a treat to learn about the death rites of the different cultures he visited. The Egyptians believe in preservation, especially when it pertains to royalty. In Memphis, Nico and his band visit Tutu, a renowned embalmer, not a ballerina. Nico is given the opportunity to "try on" various sizes of sarcophagi until he finds a good fit. It was gruesome to learn about the extraction of various organs before the embalming begins. A long metal tool with a hook is inserted into the nostril and used to grab the brain stem. The brain unravels while it is pulled out of the nostril in a single, long piece.
Nico learns about the various types of divination in which the gods speak to us mere mortals. He enters one of Egypt's oldest pyramids and does some grave robbing during his search for the sacred crook and flail, symbols of royalty that only a true descendant of a pharaoh would possess. (The crook is a golden staff and the flail is a jewel encrusted whip.) Of course there is the requisite curse for disturbing a pharaoh's grave. Furthermore, Nico faces betrayal on several occasions. His band of cohorts slowly dwindles in number as they die horrible deaths. Actually, this novel has a tremendous amount of graphic violence; it is not for the squeamish.
The Singer from Memphis is definitely one of the best installments in Gary Corby's series of Athenian Mysteries. It is filled with action, violence, suspense, and tremendous bloodshed. It includes true historical characters, such as Herodotus, Inaros, and Diotima. Corby generously provides a brief summary of the actual historical events that occurred; he reveals the outcomes of some of the historical characters. One of them didn't fare well. Also, he generously provides a glossary of terms and a list of characters.
Gary Corby's novels make me wish I had studied ancient history in high school or college; he makes the subject utterly fascinating. In the world of mystery novels, he has unquestionably created one of the most unique detectives in the form of Nico of Athens. I can't wait to read Nico's next adventure, Death on Delos.