The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby: A review

Just over a week ago I first learned of this series of mysteries set in the ancient Athens of Pericles and Socrates and I couldn't wait to get started reading them. I requested the book on my Kindle and got right down to business. I was not disappointed. 

This is Gary Corby's first Athenian mystery but he shows a sureness and sophistication in the plotting, and his characters are well-drawn. Many of the characters here, like Pericles, Socrates, and the first murder victim Ephialtes, were real people, but Corby's main character Nicolaos is his own invention. He is a particularly appealing and empathetic character. 

Nicolaos is the son of a sculptor who hopes that his older son will follow in his footsteps. Nico has other ideas, but in ancient Athens he is bound to do what his father commands. He only becomes a free adult when his father dies. 

We meet Nico just as he has returned from his two years of service in Athens' army. He is twenty years old and has an idea that he might want to enter the world of politics, but he has no background or training for it and, of course, there is that immovable object, his father's determination that he should become a sculptor. Nico's family also includes a mother who is a midwife and a twelve-year-old brother named Socrates - yes, that Socrates! - who is an irritating nuisance to a young man about town. 

As Nico wonders how he can persuade his father that he is not cut out to be a sculptor, Fate takes a hand in his life. As he stands near the rock of the Aeropagus, a dead body pierced by an arrow falls at his feet. It is Ephialtes, the man who has lately given Athens its democracy. As Nico examines the body, another man comes along the path. It is Pericles, the consummate Athenian politician. After an initially hostile confrontation, Nico manages to impress Pericles with his observations and conclusions about the killing. Pericles gives him a commission: Find who the murderer is and he will be richly rewarded. 

Nicolaos accepts the commission but makes little headway in his investigation before the body count begins to mount. Are all the other deaths somehow connected to the first? How can he ever prove it, even with the impassioned assistance of Ephialtes' beautiful daughter? The neophyte detective must pursue his investigation in a dangerous Athens on the knife-edge of civil war. How can he possibly hope to succeed? 

Corby has recreated a very believable fifth-century B.C.E. Athens. The sounds, the smells, the patri-centric society where fathers hold the power or life or death over their children, the birth pangs of something new under the sun - a democracy - are all here in this rich historical mix. The pacing of the novel makes it a real page-turner. It was hard to put it down, as I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. It was an impressive beginning for a series. I can't wait to read more.


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