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The Athenian Murders [Paperback]

Jose Carlos Somoza
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Dec 5 2002
SOMOZA/ATHENIAN MURDERS

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From Amazon

A brilliantly sketched historical mystery, The Athenian Murders is a marvellous literary conundrum that evokes such other delights as Imberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Arturo Perez-Reverte' s The Dumas Club. The novel revolves around two intertwined riddles and is the first to be translated into English by an award winning Cuban author, now resident in Spain.

In Athens, a pupil of Plato's Academy is found dead and his teacher suspects this was no accident. He asks Heracles, the "Decipherer of Enigmas", to investigate the case and the murky cult that surrounds it. The second plot unfolds in parallel through the footnotes of the translator of the original Greek text and soon leads the reader to suspect the author of the tale has something to hide too. Plot within plot, meaning inside meaning, the story develops in a fascinating manner that will enchant both mystery fans and scholars as reality is shown to be somewhat untrustworthy. This is a delight of intellectual prowess and sheer fun. --Maxim Jakubowski --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a highly original and literary approach to crime fiction, Spanish writer Somoza's gripping English-language debut interweaves text from an ancient Greek manuscript with an account of the growing anxieties of its modern translator. In the Greek text, Heracles Pontor, Decipherer of Enigmas, is called upon to solve the grisly killings of young men at Plato's Academy of Philosophy. Athenian tutor Diagoras, a sort of Watson to Pontor's Holmes, comes to ask the sage's help after the corpse of a handsome ephebe (adolescent) is discovered. It is thought at first that he was attacked by wolves, but neither of the ancient sleuths accepts this explanation, and their investigations lead to interviews with family members, mistresses and schoolmates of a mounting number of victims. Insidiously, the translator himself becomes a murder target in the unfolding plot. As he looks for secret messages in the story (left in accordance with a Greek literary technique called eidesis), he begins to notice inexplicable allusions to himself in the text: Someone is reading the scroll right now, deciphering our thoughts and actions.... Such references become more threatening near the suspenseful buildup to the final chapter, especially when he identifies a statue of himself in the studio of a rapacious sculptor rumored to be part of a sacrificial cult terrifying the city. Somoza relies on lengthy footnotes to convey his translator's insights and growing fears, sometimes causing the modern and the ancient narratives to trip over each another, but generally moving the tale along smoothly. Underlying the text are homoerotic and pagan themes, giving an unvarnished and compelling view of Greek life in 400 B.C.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Phantastic read in the true sense of the word. Although indeed sometimes apparently 'unsubtle' and heavy going, the incredible finish justifies it all. The 'detective novel' is just the window dressing, albeit well done pastiche.
If one enjoys word games, self reference and some (light) philosophy, this is the book to read
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4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a mystery novel March 3 2004
By Larry
Format:Hardcover
One of the most original new works of fiction of this past year is THE ATHENIAN MURDERS. It is a multifaceted and multilayered novel that is much more than an historical mystery. The story concerns the translator as much as the Greek characters. Ultimately, it asks the question, what is reality?
In Ancient Greece, the body of a young man turns up in a field and is initially assumed to be the result of a hunting accident. The body was consumed by wolves. However, Diogoros, the youth's tutor at the academy, wants the death investigated. He hires Heracles Pontor who is called "the Decipherer of Enigmas" to look into the matter. Diogoros decides to accompany Herakcles and so we have the investigator and his foil (or Watson). As more bodies start turning up, it soon becomes apparent that there is no question that a murder did occur .
At the same time, the translator begins to notice more and more of the text is aimed almost directly at himself and conveys that to the reader by his use of footnotes. This subplot eventually becomes as critical as the actual text of the novel.
THE ATHENIAN MURDERS is not simply a murder mystery. It is much deeper than that. It questions our very existence and, as such, becomes almost a philosophical treatise. The presence of Plato lends added weight to the ideas espoused. This unique novel was nominated for two separate dagger awards by the CWA of Great Britain. It was nominated for the Gold Dagger for crime fiction, as well as, the Ellis Peters Award for best historical mystery novel. This should indicate how hard it is to truly categorize. However, one thing in which there is little doubt is that it is a truly superior reading experience albeit somewhat unfocused.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Stunningly intelligent Jan. 30 2004
Format:Hardcover
"The Cave of Ideas", this book's title in the original Spanish, is actually a far better one; certainly more apt. "The Athenian Murders" doesn't quite bring across the right tone that of a viciously intelligent piece of a philosophy. It more creates the impression of a simple historical whodunit, which is rather misleading. For it is FAR more than that, and anyone who picks up this book just wanting an enjoyable historical novel may find themselves confounded. Because this book is, as that original title suggests, a novel of ideas. It is not just a piece of philosophy, this book IS philosophy.
It's set-up is original and brilliant, leading to the fact that we actually have here TWO first-person narrators. One, Diagoras, is a contemporary of Plato, a pedagogue at his academy in Athens. He is writing an account concerning the brutal murder of one of the sons of a leading Athenian dignitary. His body was found on a wooden hillside, and the condition of the corpse initially leads the discovers to think he has been savaged by wolves. Diagoras calls in the "Decipherer of Enigmas", Heracles Pontor (note the initials!) to help investigate the murder. Our second narrator is the modern-day translator of this ancient Greek manuscript, who speaks to us only through his footnotes as he translates the text. Gradually, as he works, another story appears to be emerging in the writing, buried in layers of hidden meaning. It seems that there is a message beneath the main story, and the unnamed translator grows obsessed by it. The more he translates, the deeper the roots seem to extend, until eventually the astonishing, confounding truth is revealed...
This is probably the most important literary thriller since Donna Tartt's The Secret History, or Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Into the Cave of Ideas Oct. 23 2002
By A. Ross
Format:Hardcover
Readers who love historical mysteries set in ancient times, such as Stephen Saylor or Lindsey Davis's Roman series, may well find themselves adrift in this postmodern metafiction riddle whose original Spanish title, "The Cave of Ideas" more accurately presages the contents. At first, the book appears to be a translation of an ancient whodunit. The mutilated body of one of Plato's students is discovered outside Athens and his tutor engages Heracles, The Decipherer of Enigmas (i.e. detective), to find out what happened. However, the anonymous translator's notes soon start to intrude, as he excitedly notes that the ancient whodunit apparently contains "eidesis", a literary technique allegedly used by the ancient Greeks to convey secret messages in texts.
As the book progresses, the two narratives become more an more entwined. It's difficult to describe further without spoiling it, but essentially, the translator grows increasingly convinced the manuscript contains a personal message for him, and his footnotes grow correspondingly lengthy and agitated. The mystery in ancient Greece progresses in relatively pedestrian fashion, with more bodies following the first, and a running argument concerning the merits of empirical reason vs. Platonic philosophy as additional food for thought. However, the mystery of the tale's translator begins to eclipse it. Switching back and forth between the two narrative lines takes some getting used to, but the device will be familiar to readers of Eco and Borges, among others and is integral to the book.
Somoza is plays a tricky game, stringing the reader along with the dual narratives, only to land a wallop of a suckerpunch at the end. His literary devices are nothing new, and nor is his ultimate point (which can't be revealed here), but it's a clever book, bound to entertain and please plenty of folks, especially those with an interest in ancient Greek philosophy.
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