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A historical murder mystery adventure that stretches from Classical Athens to Egypt in the footsteps of the first historian, Herodotus
Nicolaos, the only private investigator in Athens, discovers that helping a writer with his book research can be very dangerous. Would-be author Herodotus has hired Nico and his priestess wife, Diotima, to accompany him to Egypt to research that ancient country’s history. Unfortunately, Egypt happens to be in the throes of a rebellion against its overlords, the Persian Empire. Pirates infest the sea route. Three different armies roam the Egyptian countryside. The river is full of crocodiles. Everywhere Nico turns, there’s a secret agent ready to kill him, and possibly worse, he can’t find a decent cup of wine anywhere. A simple historical investigation turns into a dangerous adventure of international espionage.
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Read an Excerpt
AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
“Master, there’s a man at the door who wants to see you. He says his name is Herodotus.”
I looked up from my cup of wine. The house slave stood over me, awaiting my instructions on what to do with the visitor.
I relaxed on a dining couch, under the stars in our courtyard, on a fine evening, in the quiet company of my family. I had no wish to be disturbed. I especially didn’t want to be disturbed by a stranger.
“I’ve never heard of him,” I said. I turned to my wife and asked, “Honey, do we know a Herodotus?”
My wife, Diotima, lay on the dining couch beside mine. She looked up from the wax tablet on which she scribbled notes, because she had taken it into her head to write a book of philosophy. Diotima chewed on the end of her stylus while she thought about it.
“Never heard of him,” she said.
I turned to my younger brother. “How about you, Socrates?”
He was reading a scroll. He tore his attention away long enough to say, “No.” Then he returned to his scroll.
The slave spoke up again. “Master, the man says he’s from Halicarnassus.”
Ah, that explained it. Halicarnassus is a city far away, on the other side of the Aegean Sea.
“He’s a tourist to Athens then,” I said. “Give him directions to the agora and tell him to go away.”
But Master, he says he has work for you!” the house slave said.
That made me sit up.
“Then why in Hades couldn’t you say so at once? Show him in.”
The visitor sat opposite me, in our andron, the room at the front of the house reserved for male guests, which I also used for business. He had a glass of wine in his hand and a bowl of olives by his side. He sipped the wine but ignored the olives. I studied him closely, because it is always wise to know a client, or a potential client.
Herodotus was a man not much older than myself. He could not have been more than twenty-six. He wore a beard of a conservative cut, which oddly he had ringleted in the Persian manner. His clothes were of fine linen. He wore the ankle-length chiton of a gentleman who had no need of manual labor to earn his living. Yet his sandals were of the heaviest workman leather, and his feet showed the sort of calluses that you would expect to see on a veteran soldier.
The overall effect was a man who was both young and old, Greek and Persian, rich and poor. This man, I decided, cultivated contradictions.
I asked our visitor what I could do to help him.
He said, “I require an escort for my safety. You were recommended to me.”
I am the only private agent in Athens. I was used to hearing requests like this. I had once gained some notoriety when I protected a woman who sought a divorce. Her violent husband had proven a genuine threat. Yet it seemed odd to me that a healthy man like Herodotus should admit he couldn’t defend himself. Nor did he look like a coward. I asked the obvious question.
“Do you have any enemies?”
“None,” Herodotus said. “But where I am going, I will require protection nonetheless.”
“And where is that?” I asked.
Herodotus set down his cup. He leaned forward, and said, “I want you to be my personal escort when I travel to Egypt.”
I was startled. What Herodotus proposed was a very long journey. I knew right away that I would have trouble avoiding this commission, even if I wanted to. Diotima loved to travel. Besides which, my wife was a philosopher, and Egypt was the land of ancient wisdom.
There was only one problem. I voiced it.
“But there’s a war on there.”
Everyone knew about the war. The people of Egypt had risen up against their Persian overlords. When the rebels had called for help, Athens had instantly dispatched a fleet of two hundred triremes to assist our new friends, because anyone who kills Persians can’t be all bad. We’d done enough of it ourselves, when the Persians had attacked Hellas thirty-five years before. Now there were three armies roaming across the land of the Pharaohs.
“Yes, precisely. That’s why I need the escort,” Herodotus said.
“Sir, I’m a private agent, not a small army.”
“But it’s you I need,” Herodotus said earnestly. “If you are with me, then I’ll have a safe passage through any territory controlled by the Athenians. The Egyptians are your allies and I am a Hellene; they will not trouble us.”
“What about the Persians?” I asked.
“My native city might be Hellene, but Halicarnassus is a client state of the Persian Empire,” Herodotus said. “I am technically one of their citizens. Thus with you to escort me, I will have safe passage everywhere.”
I thought about it for a moment.
“Where do you want to go in Egypt?” I asked.
“Everywhere,” he said simply.
“The place is bigger than all of Hellas!”
“Everywhere that I reasonably can,” Herodotus corrected himself. “You need to understand that I am embarking on a noble course, for I am writing a book.”
I wasn’t impressed. “Isn’t everyone?” I said, thinking of Diotima in the courtyard, scribbling away.
Herodotus looked at me strangely. “This is a book of . . . histories, I suppose you would say.”
“A book of inquiries?” I repeated.
“Just so.” Herodotus nodded.
“You’re a playwright then,” I said.
“No,” Herodotus said. “The stories I’ll be telling are all true.” Herodotus spoke more quickly, with excitement. “My plan is to set down in writing the history of the wars between the Hellenes and the Persians!”
He spoke as if I should instantly recognize the genius of this idea.
After a short pause I asked, “Why bother?”
“So that the deeds of men will not be forgotten in time,” he said. “This conflict between us and the Persians is the greatest war since the Trojan. It deserves to be remembered.”
I had my doubts. Why would anyone care about our war more than any other? But that wasn’t my problem. “Let me see if I understand. You want to go to a war zone, not to fight, but so you can write about it?”
“You understand,” Herodotus said, unaware that with those words he brought his sanity into question.
“How did you hear of me?” I asked. I wanted to know what person thought I was crazy enough to do this.
“You were recommended, as I said before,” Herodotus told me. “I was speaking to your head man here in Athens—”
“Pericles?” I said, surprised. Pericles had never in his life done a man a favor that didn’t have something in it for himself. The mention of Pericles made me instantly suspicious.
“Yes,” Herodotus said. “I met Pericles the other night, at a symposium. I told him of my plans and asked his advice. Pericles said you would be just the man to lead me around Egypt. He was most helpful.”
“I’m sure he was.” I rubbed my chin. “Well, Herodotus, I thank you for your proposal. To travel to Egypt is a long undertaking. I’m sure you understand that I must think on this. Does it suit if I give you my answer tomorrow?”
“That would be wise.” Herodotus nodded gravely. He indicated my cup of wine. “I recommend that you get drunk tonight.”
“Oh? Why do you say that?” I asked, for though I thought his advice sound, it did seem a little unusual.
Herodotus said, “I merely suggest to you the custom of another land. In Persia, when a weighty matter is to be decided, the men consider it first when they’re drunk, and then again when they are sober the next morning. If their plan seems good when both drunk and sober, then they proceed with it.”
I had lived among the Persians. Not once had I ever seen them do such a thing.
“Thank you for your advice, Herodotus,” I said, showing him to the door. “I will give this assignment every consideration.”
What I didn’t say was that first thing in the morning I would be at Pericles’s house, to find out what he was up to.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A sparkling treat for the intellect and spirit, THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS offers enough action, wit, and urgent mystery solving to make this historical fiction a page-turner. At a time when the Middle East is in geopolitical turmoil (not now, but back in ancient Greece ~ 456 BC when Pericles led Athens) Athenian detective Nicolaos (Nico) starts out on an assignment to escort writer Herodotus safely through Egypt’s war zone. Too soon, he finds himself an agent for Athens working with an agent for the Egyptian rebel leader, Inaros. Along with his astute wife, Diotima, Herodotus, and Inaros’ agent and guard, Nico goes on a quest for a missing artifact that could prevent a battle between Persia and Egypt and the death and destruction of innocents. Pearls of history-fiction crop up throughout the book such as a life and death sea battle with real triremes, Herodotus researching his book (THE HISTORIES) still in print after 2,500 years, and the White Fort’s tight bureaucratic control through The Public Service (public servants) who hold back Nico’s mission by way of public ordinances. Author Gary Corby’s Athenian Mystery #6 sprinkles details about the ancient world throughout the story using Nico’s deep POV so the reader begins to smell the ocean air, feel the dirt of the inns and agora, and hear the noises along the wharves. Included are a Timeline, Author’s Notes on what’s real and what’s not in the story, and a Glossary. All these elements combine to give the reader an exciting and thrilling virtual adventure through a time of violent upheaval and ever-changing alliances. It is well worth going back to Athenian Mystery #1 to see how Nico’s detective trade began at the start of the Age of Pericles.
The host of fans that Gary Corby has garnered with his Athenian mysteries have probably been counting the days until the next one. His unique blend of humor and ancient history are a proven delight. So, for those who have been waiting for the sixth in this popular series, here ‘tis. Once again Nicolaos, the only private investigator in ancient Athens and an exceptional one at that, tells his story. He is surprised to receive a visit from the up and coming historian, Herodotus who is planning a research trip to Egypt where there is an uprising against the Persian Empire. Nico is to be described as a bodyguard but his actual task is to help the Egyptians rebelling against Persian rule. Pericles who is Nico’s mentor and a politician warns that Herodotus may be a Persian spy. Nonetheless, he advises Nico to take the job. So, Nico accompanied by his priestess wife, Diotima, Herodotus and his company set out. Their course take them into the midst of the conflict where they are attacked by pirates and must be rescued by the Athenian fleet and Herodotus is almost done in by a Spartan assassin. Still, there is further trouble ahead. Upon arrival Nico finds Maxyates, an intelligent barbarian who says Troy is his homeland, and the untrustworthy Barzanes, a devilish enemy well remembered by Nico who is now serving the King of Persia. Add a murdered general, secret agents at the ready to kill him and Nico has more than he bargained for. Plus, Corby reminds us there’s not a good cup of wine to be found anywhere. Sprightly, humorous, rich with historical detail The Singer From Memphis is another winner from Gary Corby.