Review: The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby

The setting is Athens in 460BC and Nicolaos, son of Sophroniscus the sculptor, is struggling with his fledgling career as an investigator. However the city’s leader Pericles does call on Nico’s services when Thorian, an Athenian official, is found hanged as if he committed suicide. Nico soon determines that the man was murdered but is then given the more critical task of locating the murderer and retrieving a scroll containing important information which Thorian had in his possession prior to his death. When his plan to catch the murderer quickly goes astray Nico goes on something of an epic quest which sees him rescue a young girl from being consigned to a brothel and takes him to Ephesus where his former girlfriend Diotima has lived since Nico’s father refused them permission to marry. Once there Nico’s problems only get worse as he joins the bizarre household of a sworn enemy of Athens, Themistocles, and must convince Diotima he hasn’t taken up with any other women.

The historical aspects of this book, like those of its predecessor, are first rate. There is a lot of detail provided about life in Ancient Greece and this is done generally done as part of the story in an engaging way. I found the depiction of the differences between Greek and Persian cultures to be particularly compelling as it is done with a genuine curiosity and lack of judgement. As always for me it’s the little details about day-to-day life in different times that stick in my head and here there are many such pockets of interest. Nico’s aversion to the Persian habit of wearing trousers for example made me laugh; it doesn’t seem to matter what century we’re in we humans have difficulty with people who dress ‘funny’.

I was actually quite chuffed when I found this book in audio format but on reflection I’m not sure it was the best choice for the story, or at least not for me. The narrator, Erik Davies, did a great job with the voices but I’m afraid I found the narration a bit slow (it often happens for me with American narrators who just speak more slowly than the English ones I listen to a lot). But the main reason I struggled with the book in audio format is that it made the entirely modern language much more noticeable. As I remarked in my review of the first book in this series my personal preference is for historical fiction to make some effort to use language that sounds as if it belongs to the period. I acknowledge this is mostly artifice but it helps me transport myself to the different time being depicted. In audio format the modern phrases and terminology used throughout The Ionia Sanction grated more than I think they would have in print and I think this was the main factor in me struggling at times to remain swept up in the historical world.

The beginning and the end of this book are strong from a storytelling point of view, full of action, adventure and engaging little side threads to the main story. While it could just be another effect of the slow-talking narrator for whatever reason I didn’t find the period in the middle of the book where Nico is lingering at the estate of Themistocles (a period of several months) as compelling as the rest of the story. *It just seems to meander a little too much for me as we discover some members of the household have a peculiar predilictions and there is a romantic interlude that goes on a bit too long (though I am the ultimate non-rmantic cynic) while life idles slowly by. Overall though Nico is really quite charming and carries the story well with his mix of naivety, ambition and growing intelligence.

I’m not sure I’d recommend the audio version of The Ionia Sanction unless you’re new to listening and want something a little slower to ease you into reading by your ears. However as a historical novel with loads of period detail and funny, engaging characters the book is a very enjoyable read.

*Post updated to remove potential spoiler

I reviewed The Pericles Commission, book 1 in this series, earlier this year

Interestingly for me Gary Corby has discussed the ‘voice’ used in historical fiction more than once at his very informative and entertaining blog. His post about the use of OK got me thinking and a post earlier this week about different styles of historical fiction made me squirm a little. I do feel guilty for not being able to come more easily to grips with a historical story in which words like sexpot are used. Corby’s argument that he uses current colloquial dialogue just as the citizens of ancient Athens would have had their own version of is not wrong. I just can’t quite seem to get my eyes (or ears) to agree.

My rating: 3/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Dreamscape Media [2011]
ISBN: N/A (downloaded from
Length: 11 hours 59 minutes
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Planning your Aussie Crime Fiction Reading for 2012

If you’re signing up to one (or both) of the Australian themed reading challenges for next year you might be looking for some brand new crime fiction to read. Here are some titles that I’m particularly looking forward to

Gary Corby‘s second Athenian mystery set in Ancient Greece has already been released in the US but is only being released in Australia on 3 January 2012. The blurb begins…“ATHENS, 460 B.C. Life’s tough for Nicolaos, the only investigating agent in ancient Athens. His girlfriend’s left him and his boss wants to fire him. But when an Athenian official is murdered, the brilliant statesman Pericles has no choice but to put Nico on the job. The case takes Nico, in the company of a beautiful slave girl, to the land of Ionia within the Persian Empire. The Persians will execute him on the spot if they think he’s a spy. Beyond that, there are just a few minor problems. He’s being chased by brigands who are only waiting for the right price before they kill him. Somehow he has to placate his girlfriend, who is very angry about that slave girl. He must win over Themistocles, the military genius who saved Greece during the Persian Wars, and then defected to the hated enemy. And to solve the crime, Nico must uncover a secret that could not only destroy Athens, but will force him to choose between love, and ambition, and his own life.”  I have just started listening to the audio version of this one (inexplicably available to me to legally purchase whereas the paperback is not available for two more weeks).

Sulari Gentill’s third Rowland Sinclair novel, MILES OFF COURSE, is due out on 30 January 2012 and the publisher’s blurb tells us this…“Opening early in 1933 in the superlative luxury of the Blue Mountains’ Hydro Majestic hotel, Miles off Course finds Rowland Sinclair and his companions ensconced in croquet and pre-dinner cocktails, that is, until the Harry Simpson, vanishes. An Indigenous stockman, Simpson has a hold over the Sinclair brothers that is both mysterious and unusual. The Hydro Majestic is rapidly abandoned for the High Country of NSW where Rowland searches for Simpson and becomes embroiled in a much darker conspiracy” A copy of this one arrived on the doorstep of Fair Dinkum HQ yesterday and I must admit to doing a happy dance (luckily for all concerned there is no video of this hideous sight). I was also chuffed to learn that the fourth book in this series will also be released in 2012. More happy dancing to come.

Peter Corris‘ 39th (I think) Cliff Hardy novel is called COMEBACK and will be released on 30 January 2012. The blurb says “Cliff Hardy has his licence back—but does he still have what it takes to cut it as a PI on the streets of Sydney? Cliff reckons the skills are still there, if a little rusty, and actor Bobby Forrest’s murder case looks promising. His investigations take him deep into the city’s underbelly through inner Sydney, the city’s west, the central coast and the Wollondilly Plains. Along the way, he encounters a range of suspects and motives that put his powers to the test; prostitutes and cops, corporate movers and shakers, a would-be golf guru and a media magnate’s kick-boxing assistant. Only Hardy’s experience, resilience and persistence bring him to a shock understanding of what it’s really all about.” I am determined to read this book even though I have never read any of the predecessors…I do find such a long series a very daunting prospect but I’ll just jump in and see how I go

Katherine Howell‘s fifth Ella Marconi novel is called SILENT FEAR and is due out in Australia on 1 Feb 2012. Here’s the publisher’s blurb “On a searing summer’s day paramedic Holly Garland rushes to an emergency to find a man collapsed with a bullet wound in the back of his head, CPR being performed by two bystanders, and her long-estranged brother Seth watching it all unfold. Seth claims to be the dying man’s best friend, but Holly knows better than to believe anything he says and fears that his re-appearance will reveal the bleak secrets of her past – secrets which both her fiance Fraser and her colleagues have no idea exist, and which if exposed could cause her to lose everything. Detective Ella Marconi suspects Seth too, but she’s also sure the dead man’s wife is lying, and the deceased’s boss seems just too helpful. But then a shocking double homicide related to the case makes Ella realise that her investigations are getting closer to the killer, but also increasing the risk of an even higher body count.”

Are there any Aussie crime books you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on next year?

Review: The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby

A dead man falls from the sky and lands at the feet of Nicolas son of Sophroniscus the sculptor one Athens morning in 461AD. The body is that of Ephialtes, creator of the world’s first, and still fledgling, democracy and his death could mean civil war. In the absence of a family member to do the job Pericles, a politician and fellow supporter of the move towards democracy, commissions Nicolas to investigate Ephialtes’ death with the hopes of quickly being able to discover the responsible party and bring them to justice. Of course the most obvious suspects are those old-guard politicians who weren’t to keen on handing political power over to the people, so Nicolas is literally putting his life at risk by taking on the job. However he’s young and idealistic and also sees it as the perfect opportunity to get a foothold in politics himself which would mean he doesn’t have to follow in his father’s profession.

Corby has woven and intriguing and plausible fictional tale around the real events of the time in this debut historical mystery. There’s a large cast of characters (helpfully listed at the beginning of the book along with the phonetic pronunciation of their names) at all levels of Athenian society and so we are introduced to many aspects of life in ancient Greece. Slaves, prostitutes, artisans, soldiers, businessmen, politicians and even a priestess in training are all woven into the story to provide lots of interesting background to the old-fashioned whodunnit at the heart of this book. My knowledge of this period of history borders on non-existent so I am unqualified to comment on the veracity of those details but I can attest to their ability to sustain my interest. At the very beginning of the story I worried that it was going to be too much like a history lecture but after the initial slightly awkward exposition of the setting, this information was pretty well incorporated into the ongoing events.

Nicolas is an engaging character with plenty of room to develop in future books should they arise. Having just left the equivalent of the army he wants to make his way in the world by doing something other than follow in his father’s footsteps, though he loves his parents and doesn’t wish to hurt his father’s feelings. He gets himself into all sorts of scrapes as he tackles his commission because, at the outset of the book anyway, he’s very naive. Fortunately he gets some assistance from a range of unlikely helpers including his younger brother Socrates (yes that Socrates), the daughter Ephialtes fathered with his mistress and a soldier/slave called Pythax. Nicolas’ relationships with these three in particular provide much of the humour that threads through the book which balances nicely with the mounting pile of dead bodies and serious political issues being decided along the way.

My own preference in historical fiction is for there to be some nod to the period in the language used as it helps me to become absorbed in the ‘historicalness’ of the setting and Corby has eschewed any pretence of doing that here. It’s a perfectly valid choice of course as the people would have been speaking incomprehensible ancient Greek not any version of English but I did find it that bit harder to pretend I was wandering in the Athens being depicted than I would have if thoroughly modern language wasn’t being used. That’s a minor quibble though and overall I found the book a surprisingly light and fast read. Its combination of gentle humour, characters with real human foibles and abundance of juicy historical fact and legend should appeal to a wide variety of readers. If you’re already a fan of historical fiction I’d definitely recommend it.

Gary Corby lives in Sydney and blogs at A dead man fell from the sky. The second book in the series is called The Ionia Sanction and is due out next year.

Kerrie already reviewed The Pericles Commission earlier this year

my rating 3.5/5 (my rating scale is explained here)
Publisher Penguin [2011]
ISBN 9781742531618
Length 281 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Source I bought it

Recent Acquisitions #1

Since Kerrie and I decided to re-launch this blog as Fair Dinkum Crime with a focus only on Australian crime fiction I have been uncovering new books to read wherever I turn. So far this year I have acquired 12 new (to me) titles by a total of 8 different Australian writers and there’s a mixture of historical fiction, police procedurals, legal thrillers and a noir thrown in for good measure. Something for all my personalities 🙂

Andrew Croome’s DOCUMENT Z has already been reviewed here and is a combination historical fiction/political thriller based on the real defection of a Russian embassy worker/spy to Australia in 1954. I found it compelling.

Belinda D’Alessandro’s DISCOVERING WOUNDED JUSTICE: CRUEL MENACE was a book I discovered on the auction site of writers who were auctioning books to raise money for the Queensland flood appeal and I won the auction for this book. This is the publisher’s blurb for Queensland-born Belinda’s debut novel

Alyssa Giordano, a first generation American, never thought being a woman in this day and age would be a disadvantage… until she met her first boss. Her grandmothers, one Irish, the other Italian, fought so hard to be seen by other women as their husbands’ equals. But Alyssa’s grandfathers, and her father, knew who really ran things.

Barely a year into her career, the young lawyer couldn’t believe that Duncan Kennedy would accuse her of a double cross and sack her after she’d rebuffed his advances. Nor could she believe that his partner, Lydia Price, refused to support her. As she leaves behind her first job in the only career which she’d ever wanted, Alyssa, pride wounded, loses faith in the one thing she’d grown up believing in: justice.

After struggling to get her career (and her life) back in order, Giordano finally hits the big time and finds that roles are reversed. Kennedy is labeled a swindler and a leading journalist, a woman no less, holds his fate in her hands. But as he vanishes in a cloud of lies and creditors before he can be brought to justice, Giordano’s faith in it, justice, freefalls again.

David Whish-Wilson’s LINE OF SIGHT has been send to us for review and is based on a true story:

When a brothel madam is shot on a Perth golf course in 1975 it should be a routine murder enquiry. But it isn’t. In fact there’s barely an investigation at all, and Superintendent Swann thinks he knows why. Heroin is the new drug in town and the money is finding its way into some very respectable hands.

It’s the brave or the foolish who accuse their fellow cops of corruption, and sometimes not even Swann is sure which he is. Especially when those he’s pointing the finger at have mates in every stronghold of power in the state – big business, organised crime, the government. He might have won the first round by forcing a royal commission, but the judge is an ailing patsy and the outcome seems predetermined. If that’s not enough to contend with, Swann’s teenage daughter has disappeared, he doesn’t know whether she’s alive or not, and the word on the street is he’s a dead man walking.

Line of Sight is classic crime noir, a tale of dark corruption set in a city of sun and heat.

Gary Corby’s THE PERICLES COMMISSION has already been reviewed by Kerrie but I am looking forward to reading this historical fiction work myself. It’s awaiting me on my eReader. I had been hearing about the book for a while but though it was available elsewhere last year it only became available here in Australia this year (due to the annoying vagaries of territorial copyright restrictions).

Katherine Howell’s COLD JUSTICE is her third novel to feature Sydney Detective Ella Marconi and I only realised as I was buying her fourth one VIOLENT EXPOSURE, a couple of weeks ago that I had missed one in her series. We can’t have that can we? I finished reading COLD JUSTICE (about a cold case of a murdered boy) in the early hours of this morning so there will be a review within the next couple of days. VIOLENT EXPOSURE, which I’ve still to read will offer this

When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? Is trainee paramedic Aidan Simpson telling the truth about his involvement?And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?

As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords’ fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it’s too late.

Kerry Greenwood’s first three Phryne Fisher novels were on special at Borders’ eBook store (in a collection entitled INTRODUCING PHRYNE FISHER) so I couldn’t resist and now have COCAINE BLUES. FLYING TOO HIGH and MURDER ON A BALLARAT TRAIN also awaiting me on the eReader. The books are set in 1920’s Australia and I’ve only read one before so I shall look forward to these (I like Kerry’s modern-day series of amateur sleuth books very much).

Clan Destine Press provides this information about the book:

Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.

Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive?

The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan.

Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh’s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends.

For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land.

His horrified court soon realise that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.

Lenny Bartulin’s BLACK RUSSIAN is the second Jack Susko mystery and was shortlisted for best novel in 2010’s Ned Kelly awards (eventually won by Garry Disher’s WYATT). It was one of several books by Aussie authors I ordered at the Australia Day sale held by Boomerang Books (it would have been un-Australian not to right?). Here’s what I have to look forward to:

After yet another slow week at the cash register, that fine purveyor of second-hand literature, Susko Books, is facing financial ruin. Jack Susko sets off to a gallery in Woollahra to scrape up some coin with the sale of an old art catalogue. With his usual panache and exquisite timing, he arrives just as De Groot Galleries is being done over by masked thieves. Along with a mysterious object from the safe, the robbers seize a valuable first edition from Jack’s bag, too.

When the owner of the gallery doesn’t want to call the cops, Jack is offered a sizeable sum to keep silent: but when de Groot arrives at the bookshop with his heavy to renege on the deal, all bets are off. With an ease that almost constitutes a gift, Jack Susko finds himself at the centre of a world full of duplicity, lies and art theft.

Michael Duffy’s THE TOWER made its way to my bookshelves this week after I saw mention of its successor’s imminent publication. One must start with the first book in a series whenever one can so…

Young detective Nicholas Troy is basically a good man, for whom working in homicide is the highest form of police work. But when a woman falls from the construction site for the world’s tallest skyscraper, the tortured course of the murder investigation that follows threatens his vocation.

Hampered by politicised managers and incompetent colleagues, Troy fights his way through worlds of wealth and poverty, people-smuggling and prostitution. He has always seen Sydney as a city of sharks, a place where predators lurk beneath the glittering surface. Now he uncovers networks of crime and corruption that pollute the city, reaching into the police force itself.

Finally, the shadowy predator Troy has been chasing turns and comes for him, putting his family at risk. Forced to defend himself with actions he would never have considered before, Troy confronts a moral abyss. He realises it’s a long way down.

Not a bad haul for the first six weeks of the year if I do say so myself. It’s just a pity I didn’t buy extra hours in my day to read them all but I’ll find the time eventually.

Have you acquired any interesting Australian crime fiction this year? 
Or is there something you’re very keen to get your hands on? 
Is there something else new (or new-ish) out that I should be keeping an eye out for?


Publisher: Penguin Group Australia 2010
ISBN : 978-0-14-320591-3
322 pages
Source: Local Library

Publisher’s blurb:

Athens, 461BC.  A dead man falls from the sky, landing at the feet of a surprised Nicolaos.
It doesn’t normally rain corpses.  This one is the politician Ephialtes, who only days before had turned Athens into a democracy.
Rising young statesman Pericles commissions Nicolaos to find the assassin.  Nico walks the mean streets of Classical Athens in search of a killer, but what’s really on his mind is how to get closer – much closer – to Diotima, an intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess, and how to shake off his irritating twelve year old brother, Socrates . . .

My take:
This novel had me hooked from the beginning.
How could I resist this opening paragraph?

    A dead man fell from the sky, landing at my feet with a thud. I stopped and stood there like a fool, astonished to see him lying where I was about to step. He lay facedown in the dirt, arms spread wide, with an arrow protruding out of his back. He’d been shot through the heart.

Nicolaos recognises the body as Ephialtes, the man who had brought full democracy to Athens. He doesn’t however recognise the man who turns the body over, Pericles, part of Athenian aristocracy. Pericles is convinced that his friend and mentor Ephialtes has been murdered at the instigation of the Council of the Areopagus whom he had taken power from.

Nicolaos is just twenty, just finished ephebe training, and not really the best person Pericles could have chosen to investigate the death of his friend, but the two seem to hit it off right from the beginning. Athens has no police force (really a modern phenomenon) and such investigations are usually undertaken by families or tribal districts. And so Nicolaos begins his political education, finding out how the Athenian city state really works.

In the blurb on the back cover Kelli Stanley calls THE PERICLES COMMISSION “a rollicking romp” and I enjoyed both that aspect and the detailed background of Athenian history, from the “Timeline to Democracy” and the list of “actors” in the opening pages, to the thoughtfully provided Glossary at the end. In the Author’s Note at the end Gary Corby says “Perhaps the greatest joy of writing a book like this is interweaving fiction into the fabric of truth” and I think he does that very well.

This is Gary Corby’s debut novel, seemingly at least to have a sequel, if the implications of the final pages come to fruition.

My rating: 4.4

About the author:
Gary Corby has long been fascinated by ancient history, finding it more exciting and bizarre than any modern thriller.  He’s combined the ancient world with his love of whodunits, to create an historical mystery series set in Classical Greece.  Gary lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and two daughters.  He blogs at A Dead Man Fell From The Sky, on all things ancient, Athenian, and mysterious.