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Publisher: Century (Random House)
Release Date: 6 May 2004
ISBN: 1844134628
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre:   Historical Crime [330BC Athens]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  

Poison in Athens  
By Margaret Doody

    Stephanos, his marriage looming large on the horizon, is back for another case. Some might say fresh from his travels around the Aegean with his friend and mentor Aristotle, but Stephanos would beg to differ there and cite pirate kidnapping and would show his wound. When he has recovered enough, he unwisely treats himself to a night in a brothel, but soon regrets this when he discovers a corpse in the house next door. The murdered man was the center of a notorious case prior to Stephanos’ cruise and was being sued for “malicious wounding.” Now Stephanos is in trouble of his own, following his disastrous night of illicit passion; not only is he a key witness to a murder, but he was also present when Athens’ most celebrated courtesan decided to commit blasphemy. It looks as though he won’t be getting married for a long time (if ever), and what does Socrates’ long-ago trial have to do with it all?

     This tale brings the authentic flavour of Aristotle’s Symposium to life, as the philosophy school debates on every subject under the sun including what it means to be an Athenian. Margaret Doody knows how to bring Ancient Greece to a vivid and pulsating life, which comes over as being refreshingly politically incorrect (to us that is; no anachronisms here) and barbaric, contrasting with its much-vaunted democratic pride. If you want a thrilling read, this isn’t it; the pace is slower than the previous three books and the whole plot takes its time getting off the ground, but if you want to read about life in Ancient Greece, then this book is surely for you. Another point in its favor is in having impoverished Athenian citizen Stephanos as narrator. He comes over as a wonderfully convincing man of his day, delightfully pompous as ever and with a typical attitude towards women and foreigners (apart from Aristotle of course) while he desperately tries to gain money, useful friends and rise in society. We have had books set during the spring and summer of the year 330BC, and now it is the turn of melancholy autumn. A bit of editing and a speedier pace would make for a more exciting novel, but surely nobody can fault Ms Doody’s scholarly depiction of life in those far-off times.