By Margaret Doody
Arrow (Random House) - May 2002
ISBN 0099436132 PB
Teenage/Adult - Historical Crime
Ancient Greece, 332 BC

Reviewed by: Rachel A Hyde,
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Here is a treat indeed; a timely reprint of Margaret Doody's classic novel from 1978. It is always interesting to read a historical detective novel that was written before Ellis Peters reinvented the genre and from the first chapter, it is plain that the author is an authority on her subject (a university professor) and that this is no mere costume drama using the trappings of the period, but a book that really manages to get under the ancient Greek skin. This immediacy is helped by the fact that the tale is told by young Stephanos, head of a household of women and concerned with money worries. When he stumbles on the body of a wealthy local man who has been shot dead with an arrow he suddenly finds that he has even more to worry about, for not only is his absent cousin Philemon accused of the crime, but the finger is pointed at him as well. Doubt is cast on the side his ne'er-do-well relation fought on in the current war against the
Persians, and what other family skeletons are going to emerge from their closet? Stephanos is about to find out who his friends are - he hasn't got any - apart from his old tutor Aristotle who can surely help, if he can ever stop talking about old pots.

Margaret Doody's novel makes the Ancient Greeks seem as immediate as people from another country today and a report of Alexander's campaigns seems like a news bulletin - not a feat I've ever come across before anywhere else. She even captures the Greek attitude to women spot on and isn't afraid of making her protagonist a typical chauvinist of his time. It is true that she has her work cut out for her making her protagonist into a sympathetic character, but somehow she manages it and he comes over as very much an average middle-class ancient Greek. One minor point: although there is a dramatis personae, there is no glossary, and being in the dark as to some meanings is a handicap to reading enjoyment. At nearly 400 pages the book seemed overlong for a genre novel, but to give this book such a label is to fail to recognize its power; this is surely a book that mainstream readers wouldn't mind being caught with on the train.

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