The Singer from Memphis by Gary Corby is a take on the Nico and Nora Charles model without Aster, but in the time of the Greek and Persian Wars (499 – 449 BC). This is his sixth novel in the Athenian Mystery Series and I’m just getting to it. I love the tone, The Thin Man. I love the content, Ancient History. Where was Corby when I was studying Ancient History in ninth grade? It is much more fun that the Edith Hamilton I had to read.
Nicolaos’ current client is Herodotus, the father of ancient history. On advice from Pericles, Herodotus hires Nicolaos and his wife, Diotima, to escort him to a war zone in Egypt so he can record the proceedings for history. He advises Nico to get drunk before he decides, “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.” Sound advice, methinks. Inaros, the leader of the rebel forces and Prince of Libya, is in Lower Egypt holding off the Persian army until additional forces from Persia will arrive to annihilate them. Inaros requests an agent from Pericles to help him combat an enemy agent from Persia. Pericles chooses Nico as the friendly agent and suspects Herodotus may be the enemy agent. While in Egypt, the Greek wine drinking Nico is constantly on the lookout for a glass of wine. All he can find is beer, they don’t have wine. This is just one of the everyday kind of things Corby does to educate the reader about ancient history and the ways of the different cultures. Within the team are two Greeks, an Egyptian, a Persian, a Spartan, and a Libyan, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. In this way Corby can educate as well as entertain the reader.
A funny quirk, and historically correct is reference to gods and not god as in common exclamations as “Oh my Gods,” “Thank Gods,” “Good Gods,” “Dear Gods,” and the like. It took time to get used to at first until I came to realize these folks believe in many gods, not one. In fact the characters believed in many sets of many gods. The Greeks had their set, the Persians theirs, the Egyptians theirs, and the Libyans theirs. “Meanwhile, Maxyates and Herodotus were arguing about the Gods. “But they have to be the same gods,’ Herodotus insisted. ‘You can’t have two lots of gods running the world. What happens if they disagree?’” These types of conversations throughout are entertaining for us, as we consider their gods part of our mythology, but to them very serious discussions, nonetheless. Of course, aren’t we in the same boat today, when one day, our beliefs become things of tomorrow’s myths?
The Author’s Note and Glossary are stuff of what lesson plans are made. Here Corby explains the source of his story as it is based on actual factual history and tells us when he uses the writer’s license to further his needs. I need to go back to the beginning, The Pericles Commission and work my way through them all and history.