Ancient World Mysteries Reviews

The Ancient World has its mysteries… here are a few of them:

51-SPTjegML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Gary Corby’s Athenian Mysteries are set in Athens during the time when some of the most notable citizens were establishing the basis of Western culture. One of them in Nicolaos, who calls himself an “agent”, who tackles investigations for the de facto ruler, Pericles.

In THE MARATHON CONSPIRACY (Soho Crime, 2014, $15.95), Nico and his soon-to-be wife, the priestess Diotima, are called to the Sanctuary of Artemis to look into the discovery of a skull in a nearby cave. Coult it be the remains of Hippias, the traitor who summoned the Persians into Hellas? What’s worse, one young women studying at the temple school is killed and another is missing, and the school itself is in turmoil. It takes Nico’s pesty young brother Socrates to unlock the puzzle, and solve one of the great mysteries of the Battle of Marathon.

51biSkrp20L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_DEATH EX MACHINA (Soho Crime, 2015,$15,95) has Nico, Diotima and Socrates investigating rumors that a ghost is haunting the grand theater, where the ceremonies of the Great Dionysia are to be performed.

A series of accidents has marred the rehearsals of the new tragedy by the most famous of the writers, Sophocles. A purification rite should take care of the ghost, but when an actor is found hanging from the apparatus used to elevate the one who takes the part of the god at the end of the play, Pericles does the unthinkable. He literally stops time until Nico can unravel this mystery and find the true culprit.

The position of non-Athenians in the city plays a part in the drama, and there are appearances by Euripides and his harridan of a mother as well. Author’s notes at the beginning and end of each novel add to the reader’s enjoyment of the books, and explain what is often left out of history books.

511OrM7CNaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_RAIDERS OF THE NILE, by Steven Saylor (Minotaur, 2014, $15.99) is a prequel to his Sub Rosa series, featuring Gordianus the Finder. Here is Gordianus as a young Roman adrift in the steamy cultural mix that was Alexandria before the Romans took over. Gordianus’s slave woman, Bethesda, is kidnapped, and he will do anything to find her. His search takes him into the desert, where he gets involved in banditry, and hears that the Roman fleet is on its way.

Street performers, mystical priests, mismatched twins all play a part in this wild romp that will lead Gordianus back to his roots in Rome. A Chronology of historical events (and how they coincide with Gordianus’s life) is included, as well as Author’s notes that explain some of the tangled politics of Egypt and Rome at this crucial time.

Followers of the career of Marcus Didius Falco will be delighted to know that there is a second generation of Falco informers in Rome. Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia, has taken his career and his old digs, and is working during the frenetic reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

UnknownIn ENEMIES AT HOME (Minotaur, 2014,$15.99), Flavia takes on a case that she knows will end badly. A rich man and his wife have been robbed and brutally murdered, The household slaves are immediately suspected. All of them will be tortured, some may be sent to arena. They seek sanctuary in the Temple of Ceres, where they may stay until they are proved innocent… or not. It’s up to the aedile, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, to do it, and he, in turn, hires Flavia as his agent to get to the bottom of the tangled web of lies, truths and half-truths that creep into any household in Rome. There is a sickness in the house that may have something to do with the well, and Flavia finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for. The innocent do not always go free and the guilty are not always punished in the stew that is Rome.

51Tq2eja3nL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_DEADLY ELECTION (Minotaur, 2015,$25.00) finds Flavia back in Rome after a short period of rest, recuperating from her last case. There’s a problem with the family auction business; a dead body has been found in a chest sold at the last auction. At the same time, her friend Faustus, who came to her rescue when she was deathly ill, calls in a favor, when he needs help getting on of his friends elected.

The two cases collide, when it turns out that Sextus may have something in common with the previous owners of the chest, and the body may have a bearing on the coming election. Roman political campaigns are rough, and Flavia is caught between family and friends, while she digs for dirt, literally and figuratively. A shameful secret, a tangled web of sisters, a family feud that lasts for generations, all play a part in this tragic election.

In the end, there is justice of the Roman sort, and Flavia finds a new partner in life, with a hint of more adventures to come.

Both books contain maps of Rome and lists of characters, which help keep the action clear.

Reviews provided by Roberta Rogow for her column Roberta’s Ramblings in the May 2016 edition of The Book Breeze.

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