In the summer of 336 BC, as Philip of Macedon prepares to celebrate in front of all of Greece, his loyal bodyguard, Pausanias, stabs him in the centre of the arena. Pausanias flees, but is tripped by an unseen person and then killed by the fleeing guards. Alexander, son of Philip is elevated quickly to the throne but questions remain. Why did Pausanias kill his beloved master? Why did the chasing guards seemingly know which exit Pausanias would take before the crime took place? Who caused Pausanias’s death by tripping him? And who is the puppet master, seemingly pulling the strings of everyone and what is their goal?
Based around the true story (as far as can be told) of the death of Philip of Macedon and the rise of Alexander the Great, you might expect that there isn’t much scope to add your own plot or mystery to the central “man gets stabbed in the middle of an arena in full view of a large number of people” but Anna Apostolou has crafted a very clever little mystery around the events. This is the first of only two books that she has writ… hang on. [Nips off to Wikipedia] It’s that man again – this time masquerading as a Greek-sounding woman. I wonder why…
In all seriousness, this is the first of two books in one of Paul Doherty’s shorter series. But is it any good?
Well, it’s rather different. Whereas A Shrine of Murders seemed a bit flat to me, this brings Aegae, the capital of the Macedonian empire vividly to life. Top tip – I wouldn’t choose 336 BC Macedon as a holiday destination – it really isn’t a nice place. I’m not going to mention the punishment received by one character at the hands of General Attalus, but it doesn’t sound pleasant.
In fact, the drama is full of less-than-wholesome individuals, most notably Alexander’s mother. Alexander isn’t exactly a hero either – while he doesn’t condone his mother’s wanton murder of at least one character (that’s not a spoiler), he doesn’t seem particularly concerned either. Doherty does a really good job of presenting the occupants of Macedon with, for want of a better phrase, Macedonian morals, rather than present day ones.
The heroes of the piece are two Jewish exiles, Miriam and Simeon, friends of Alexander and hence under his protection. While Alexander seeks to claim the throne, he tasks his friends with clearing him of any involvement in the death of his father. As such, this moves Alexander into the background, which, with the nature of the plot, is entirely a good thing. Miriam, who carries most of the action, is one of Doherty’s better female leads, and her presence lifts the investigation.
As for the mystery – there are basically two. What happened in the arena, and who tripped the murderer? I think Doherty tries to be a bit too clever with the second part, as this stood out a mile to me, although I can see that it was supposed to be a real surprise. As for the former, this took me by surprise – I think the who is pretty inevitable, but the exact “what is going on” was so obvious but completely passed me by – in other words, a perfect mystery resolution.
So, top marks for this one. Recommended, if you can find a copy, but I think it was only published in the US.
There is another in this series, A Murder in Thebes, and then three more Alexander the Great mysteries, but I think they form a separate strand of stories. I’ll let you know…