Hudson, Roger - 'Death Comes by Amphora'
461 BC. Arriving in Athens for the first time with only an elderly slave and an urgent invitation from his uncle, young Lysanias finds, in quick succession, that Athens is in political turmoil, his uncle has been accidentally flattened by an amphora in a shipyard, and that he's expected to marry his uncle's widow. He comes to suspect that his uncle's death wasn't actually an accident at all, and that family loyalty requires him to avenge the murder. At the same time, he's got to find out which side he's on politically.
There's a slightly overwhelming cast list of 46 characters, but the story concentrates on Lysanias and Sindron, his slave, with the widow Philia getting increasing page time later in the book as she becomes increasingly involved in the investigation.
The story moves quickly when it's allowed to, but there's a lot of political background that needs explaining. Arriving from the colonies Lysanias knows nothing of Athenian politics or society, and Sindron the slave has been away, which means he needs everything explaining as much as the reader does. This ought to be a good thing, but it does affect the pace of the book: our heroes repeatedly meet someone who explains their faction's view of reality, then meet someone else who explains a different faction's different view of the same reality and so on. Whenever this happens, the story slows almost to a halt until the soap box is put away. Once all the political factioneering is done with, the story becomes pretty gripping. The actual mechanics of investigating a murder when religious doctrine is keen on purifying the site of any death make a nice change from detailed forensic work.
Overall, a pretty good read with likeable characters but a rather slow start. I'll be interested to see what Lysanias, Sindron and Philia do next.
Rik Shepherd, England
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