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What We've Been Reading
Gary Corby - Sacred Games
One of the things I like best about Gary Corby’s novels about Nicolaos, investigator for Pericles in ancient Greece (aside from the humor!) is how he weaves actual history and real-life people into his stories and makes them believeable. And in Sacred Games (May 21st, no signed copies available, I’m afraid), he takes Nico to the 460 BC Olympics.
One of Nico’s good friends, Timodemus, is the odds-on favorite to win the pankration, the deadliest of all the Olympic games. His only real competition is the Spartan, Arakos, and when Arakos is found beaten to death, Timo is the top suspect. Relations are strained between Athens and Sparta as it is; if an Athenian is convicted of murdering a Spartan, more will be at stake than a medal. War will break out, a war that could engulf all of Greece.
Can Nico clear his friend and find the real killer? But what if Timodemus really did it?
And, in what may be an even more serious situation, Nico and Diotima’s relationship has been vetoed by both their fathers. So in addition to clearing Timo’s name, Nico has to find a way to convince both fathers that he and Diotima should be allowed to marry, especially since they already are!
I learned so much about the original Olympic games, which truly were sacred. Oaths were taken by all the competitors before Zeus, and those oaths were binding beyond death. And it was great to see Nico’s kid brother, Socrates, playing an important role in the investigation!
There were twists I didn’t see coming, the pace was non-stop, and some of the new characters will be with me for a long, long time, especially dowager Queen Gorgo. Man, I liked her! All three books in the series are brilliant, and Gary Corby just keeps the quality going.
If you haven’t read this series, you should start with The Pericles Commission. Each story stands on its own, but the back stories grow with each subsequent book, and your enjoyment will be richer for reading them in order.
Charlie Huston - Skinner
Charlie Huston is the kind of author who writes a great variety of stories but all are reliably and engrossingly fresh and fabulous. His latest book, Skinner is a riot of invention that kept me delightedly off-balance. That’s no small feat for someone who has been devouring this stuff for a number of decades, but Charlie ALWAYS does it. He never does what has been done before.
Skinner is in the ‘asset protection’ business. Calling him a bodyguard is like calling Dillinger a thief. Skinner has long been the top of the pyramid because his rule was to visit such horror on anyone who attempts to harm his asset that no one would even consider it. But seven years ago, someone tried to mess with Skinner and the world in which he operates has been holding its breath, waiting for his retaliation.
This is a world that exists in a different dimension from the rest of us. They’re former Black Ops people, former spooks or refugees from military or other governmental outfits. They’re private security people, secret and clandestine. Their world is so far outside ours that Skinner’s monstrous abilities make sense to them.
The storyline moves quickly, skipping around the world, looking for the trail of cyber-terrorists who attacked a US nuclear plant. It tangles with political demonstrations in Sweden, teams of rival operatives with their own agendas, to a crypt in Paris where the story started years earlier, and finally to the revelations of what it was all about. Skinner is a character unlike any I’ve experienced, as is his asset, Jae, who has been searching for the explanation of the world since her mother died of a bee sting decades before. Jae builds micro-robots for fun and is able to scan great amounts of information from print, the internet, TV, and see the links that are hidden to others. They’re a credible pair of broken people, unlikely allies in the war to stop what has been initiated. Broken as they are, they’re real and human and I was sure I could see their faces and hear their voices even though Charlie really never fully describes either of them. Any more explanation of the story would dampen the intrigue. Trust me here – it made my transcontinental flight home from Boston zip by unnoticed.
Espionoirthrillspense…whatever you want to call it. It’s a top notch thrill ride, an E-ticket ride if you’re old enough to remember those.
Huston. Skinner. Read.
James Lee Burke - Swan Peak
Those who have been around this shop for awhile know that I am a huge James Lee Burke fan. I think he’s one of the country’s best writers period. Swan Peak with Dave Robicheaux is the first to take place outside of the New Orleans/New Iberia locale since 1989’s Edgar-winner Black Cherry Blues. [In that, the third book in the series, Dave heads up to Montana to look into some problems that one of his college roommates ran into. He’s no longer a cop in the Big Sleazy and hasn’t yet joined the New Iberia Sheriff’s department. And it is in Montana that he reunites with Clete Purcell.]
In Swan Peak, Dave and Clete are vacationing with a friend and trouble finds them right away. Some of the goons they dealt with in 1989 are still around and working for some very rich and unpleasant people. There’s a side story about a Texas prison guard that eventually merges into Dave’s story and the whole thing is one big tasty gumbo of crime and guilt and lost souls and evil, and redemption.
Always tasty, always smooth, always satisfying, and always stunning.