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Monday 27 July 2020

‘Beware of Greeks’ by Peter Tonkin

Published by Sharpe Books,
27 May 2020.
ISBN: 979-865116077-8 (PB)

The story is set in Greece, circa 1190 BCE. Agamemnon, High King of Mycenae, has declared war on Troy. His excuse is that he wishes to rescue Helen, his brother’s wife, who is a prisoner in Troy, but the true reason is his desire to extend his already considerable reputation and power. Agamemnon is determined that the other kings in Greece join him and supply armies to assist him. Many of the kings are unwilling because they fear that a long campaign will impoverish their countries, destroy their armies and even lead to the deaths of their heirs, who would lead the armies. However, they dare not voice their dissent because Agamemnon is too mighty and ruthless a ruler for the kings to defy. One of the kings who has agreed to help Agamemnon is the legendary adventurer Odysseus, King of Ithaca. Odysseus is travelling in his ship, Thalassa, on his way to Phthia, to search for Prince Achilles to persuade him to join Agamemnon’s campaign. Achilles is a great military commander who controls a powerful army, the Myrmidons, and it seems likely that, if Odysseus can locate him, he will be eager to gain glory on the battlefield.

The story is narrated by a young man who had been beaten and crippled by robbers when he was travelling in Troy. No longer able to pursue an active career, the boy becomes an apprentice to a rhapsode, a man who recites epic poems, an avocation that requires an excellent memory. While Odysseus is passing through Aulis on his way to Phthia he encounters the young rhapsode and invites him to accompany him. Delighted by the prospect of adventure, the rhapsode is eager to accept, although it is not clear whether Odysseus values him as an entertainer or for his knowledge of Troy.

Odysseus is a man with several titles, King when in his palace, General when on the battlefield, and Captain when aboard his ship; and it is as Captain that the young rhapsode knows him. Also, aboard the ship is Agamemnon’s chief advisor, Nestor, King of Pylos, who is travelling with them because Agamemnon does not fully trust Odysseus. Nestor proves to be a trial to both Odysseus and the rhapsode: Odysseus because the inflexibility of Nestor’s thought processes means that his advice is often unsuitable for the situation; the rhapsode has problems because Nestor had once sailed with Jason and interrupts recitation of epics with interminable stories. From the first secret smile that they share over Nestor’s didactic statements, the rhapsode is devoted to Odysseus and his interests.

On the journey, they discover a corpse floating on a makeshift raft and Odysseus recovers it. Odysseus reveals yet another extraordinary talent, that of an insightful investigator who is skilled in logical deduction and forensic observation. He deduces that the man has been murdered and that he was a rhapsode, who, because of his trained memory, has been employed by one of the kings who wishes to communicate secretly with another ruler. When the murdered body of the dead rhapsode’s apprentice is also discovered, Odysseus’ theory seems to be substantiated and his own rhapsode realises that his chosen career is far more dangerous than he had realised.

As Odysseus and his rhapsode continue to attempt to complete their mission and locate Achilles they have to cope with deceit, corruption, murder and violence, and the young rhapsode discovers that political games in the courts of kings are very hazardous.

Beware of Greeks is the first in a new series, The Trojan Murders. It is a fascinating mixture of murder mystery, political intrigue and Greek legend. Odysseus is a charismatic hero, a great fighter and commander and a wily player of political games, at the same time he is at ease with the men under his command, such as his rhapsode. I did have some problems when reading this book in the paperback edition, because of the close line spacing and tight layout.

Beware of Greeks is an intriguing murder mystery with a skilfully depicted setting and charismatic hero. An unusual and enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Peter Tonkin was born 1 January 1950 in Ulster, son of an RAF officer. He spent much of his youth travelling the world from one posting to another. He went to school at Portora Royal, Enniskillen and Palmer's, Grays. He sang, acted, and published poetry, winning the Jan Palac Memorial Prize in 1968. He studied English with Seamus Heaney at Queen's Belfast. His first novel, Killer, was published in 1978. Since then he has divided his time between writing and teaching.  He has published 47 other novels including the Master of Defence series of Elizabethan murder mysteries and the 30-book Mariner series of action-adventure-thrillers.  Since retiring from teaching, he has been preparing a series of thrillers set in Ancient Rome.  

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title.

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