Friday, April 25, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Death Comes By Amphora by Roger Hudson

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of Death Comes By Amphora by Roger Hudson. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Death Comes By Amphora by Roger HudsonBuy from Amazon.com

Death Comes By Amphora by
Non-series

Twenty First Century (Trade paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-904433-68-5 (1904433685)
ISBN-13: 978-1-904433-68-2 (1904433685)
Publication Date: September 2007
List Price: $12.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): In Ancient Athens in 461 BC, aristocratic General Kimon has driven back the might of the Persian Empire and forged a new empire for Athens, making his city the commercial centre of the Eastern Mediterranean. Now he is struggling for his political existence against the radical democratic reforms of the demagogue Ephialtes and his ambitious supporter Perikles.

Into this political turmoil steps Lysanias, just 18, just reached manhood, and an innocent amidst the deceit and corruption of the big city. Recalled from an Athenian colony by a mysterious message from his wealthy uncle Klereides, he discovers that his uncle has died in suspicious circumstances, that he is the heir, and that his obligations now include marrying his uncle’s teenage widow.

Convinced that his uncle was murdered and driven by the ancient duty of vengeance, Lysanias sets out to discover the truth, aided by his elderly slave Sindron. Their investigations take them deep into the murky interlocking worlds of Athenian politics, business, finance, religion and even art, where it seems Klereides had many enemies and where even his friends cannot be trusted. With his own loyalties torn between the rival political factions, aristocrats and workers, due to his early training as an artisan, Lysanias himself faces violent death before he and Sindron discover the culprit and Ephialtes’ assassin.

Review: With a combination of scholarly research and highly creative imagination British author Roger Hudson has fashioned a believable and highly readable story in Death Comes By Amphora, a murder mystery that could as easily happened in Greece’s Golden Age of Athens as in modern America.

Hudson admits in an author’s insightful afterword that not much is known about the times in which his novel is set so he has used a certain degree of literary license to create the settings, the atmosphere, the characters and even the events he interweaves into his plot. It is a masterful job with references to the city of Athens’ known landmarks, to the Greek gods and goddesses, to historical icons, and to characters with Greek names and their interests in the politics of the day. And in the middle of it all are the central characters, “18 yesterday” Lysanias, now a designated citizen with a vote, and his older slave and mentor, Sindron. As it turns out the pair could easily have been the prototypes for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in their reliance on observation and deductive reasoning to solve the murder of Lysanias’ opulent uncle Klereides, done in by a huge shipyard amphora falling on him when he is lured to the docks late at night for a meeting with a stranger. While some believe the death to be an accident, especially those who might profit by it, Lysanias follows the clues, and tracks the suspects he believes have placed profit ahead of justice. With Sindron as his assistant and a sounding board for his theories, he mingles with business leaders, mixes with politicians and generals, and sorts out the good from the bad among his relatives, including a belligerent cousin and his domineering grandmother, Makarias. He reserves a couple of trysts for his own exploration with the 15-year-old wife of his uncle whom he is now obligated by custom to marry, a custom he is quick to embrace, literally as well as figuratively in a couple of lively scenes. In addition to the intrigue over the uncle’s death, there are concerns and physical clashes between the lower classes of artisans and workers and the elite, ruling class, causing further conflict for Lysanias who straddles both camps, formerly as an artisan and now as a wealthy tycoon. Sindron as well brings his cartload of conflicts, torn between loyalty to Lysanias, his dipping into his master’s funds for a risky venture and the lure of easy money for spying upon him for bankers with motives of their own. In the end loyalty to friends and to family wins out with Sindron occupying a place of influence in Lysanias’ new household after a murder has been solved, a political resolution to it being accepted by Lysanias even though Sindron’s “sense of rightness, of justice would be outraged he knew.” And in the final paragraph there’s a door, or should we say a portico, left open for a sequel or two with the Athenian dynamic duo.

Sometimes told from the point of view of different characters, but always consistently true to the plot, atmosphere and setting, Death Comes By Amphora is a first-rate history/mystery, complete with credible maps of the Athens and the Agora (city market place) of 461 BC, a list of characters with the names in italics of those who were known real people, and the author’s two-page historical note about the history used in the book.

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham ([email protected]) for contributing his review of Death Comes By Amphora and to Roger Hudson for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

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