The Singer from Memphis, by Gary Corby
SoHo Press (2016), Hardcover, 352 pages
This series, now in its 6th instalment, just keeps getting better. Its truly great to see an author growing in confidence with every book, handling his characters deftly and with affection, building tension, but letting humour flow at the right moments. In this episode, budding private eye Nicolaos and his lovely bride and partner in investigation Diotima are tasked with another important mission for Athens, sent to Egypt where Athens is supporting a rebel prince fighting against the hated Persians. For once, his bratty brother Socrates is left behind, in his place Nicolaos and Diotima are accompanied by a wealthy young layabout whose goal is write something that no-one has ever attempted before – history. His name is Herodotus. The mission, of course, gets more and more complicated, as they are being pursued by a Spartan assassin who has motives of his own as well as a commission from Athen’s rival city, and are joined by the titular singer from Memphis, who also, surprise, surprise, has hidden motives. In the end Nicolaos and Diotima and their motley band of companions chase all over Egypt and Libya, while being chased themselves, to locate two legendary artefacts which which will ensure the rebel prince is accepted as legitimate Pharoah of Egypt. There are a lot of Indiana Jones moments, a lot of humour, a lot of misunderstandings and revelations, but Corby handles them all with aplomb and a deft, whimsical touch. This is really top-notch writing, and there is more to come. A throw-away line at the end of Corby’s epiologue where he ties up all the historical ends, is literally earth-shattering in its implications. For the whole series, if I read it right, and historically it should follow this pattern, is going to shift in focus. Up until now, Persia, Athens’ historical nemesis, has been the main foe. But from on, Persia fades into the background, and the scene is set for the clash of Athens and Sparta, and a devastating war which will leave Athens all but defunct as a city-state and Sparta in not much better shape. How Corby, and for that matter Nicolaos and Diotima, handle this catastrophe, is a mouth-watering prospect. Just remember the name “Delios”, because this is where it all begins.