- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 3, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374106770
- ISBN-13: 978-0374106775
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,115,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Athenian Murders Hardcover – June 3, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In a highly original and literary approach to crime fiction, Spanish writer Somoza's gripping English-language debut interweaves text from an ancient Greek manuscript with an account of the growing anxieties of its modern translator. In the Greek text, Heracles Pontor, Decipherer of Enigmas, is called upon to solve the grisly killings of young men at Plato's Academy of Philosophy. Athenian tutor Diagoras, a sort of Watson to Pontor's Holmes, comes to ask the sage's help after the corpse of a handsome ephebe (adolescent) is discovered. It is thought at first that he was attacked by wolves, but neither of the ancient sleuths accepts this explanation, and their investigations lead to interviews with family members, mistresses and schoolmates of a mounting number of victims. Insidiously, the translator himself becomes a murder target in the unfolding plot. As he looks for secret messages in the story (left in accordance with a Greek literary technique called eidesis), he begins to notice inexplicable allusions to himself in the text: Someone is reading the scroll right now, deciphering our thoughts and actions.... Such references become more threatening near the suspenseful buildup to the final chapter, especially when he identifies a statue of himself in the studio of a rapacious sculptor rumored to be part of a sacrificial cult terrifying the city. Somoza relies on lengthy footnotes to convey his translator's insights and growing fears, sometimes causing the modern and the ancient narratives to trip over each another, but generally moving the tale along smoothly. Underlying the text are homoerotic and pagan themes, giving an unvarnished and compelling view of Greek life in 400 B.C.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In his U.S. debut, ambitious Spanish novelist Somoza parallels a murder at Plato's Academy and the predicament of a contemporary translator, who finds that a text about the murder speaks to him in a direct and frightening way.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's set-up is original and brilliant, leading to the fact that we actually have here TWO first-person narrators. One, Diagoras, is a contemporary of Plato, a pedagogue at his academy in Athens. He is writing an account concerning the brutal murder of one of the sons of a leading Athenian dignitary. His body was found on a wooden hillside, and the condition of the corpse initially leads the discovers to think he has been savaged by wolves. Diagoras calls in the "Decipherer of Enigmas", Heracles Pontor (note the initials!) to help investigate the murder. Our second narrator is the modern-day translator of this ancient Greek manuscript, who speaks to us only through his footnotes as he translates the text. Gradually, as he works, another story appears to be emerging in the writing, buried in layers of hidden meaning. It seems that there is a message beneath the main story, and the unnamed translator grows obsessed by it. The more he translates, the deeper the roots seem to extend, until eventually the astonishing, confounding truth is revealed...
This is probably the most important literary thriller since Donna Tartt's The Secret History, or Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. It won the UK's CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the year, and I don't think there has ever been a more deserving winner. This is the writer's sixth novel, but his English language debut, and it marks out a remarkable, astounding talent. It is incredibly hard to convey the sheer quality of this text (somehow that word seems more appropriate than "novel") is without revealing its brilliance, the stunning, jaw-dropping final revelation which shafts this novel into the stratosphere of brilliant works of literature and ideas. As I say, though this starts as a philosophical novel, with meaning within meaning, with its end it actually BECOMES a genuine piece of actual philosophy itself. It's ending explodes it into the category, "masterpiece". It's definitely a book for the thinking-reader, though, some of the ideas explored take time to get your head around, and I'm sure that the end can provoke hours of thought, cogs turning round and round in the brain. It did for me, certainly. However, there is more to this brilliant mystery than just its end; don't let my effusive praise deceive you!
The historical sections are fascinating, wonderfully detailed; crafted with the love of a scholar. They're not overbearing, though, and they only add to the story and the characters. It's also worth assuring you that Somoza balances the two parallel stories brilliantly. Never is there more importance placed on the truth of the ancient mystery than there is on the truth of the modern one, so effortless does he temper them, balance them. Nor does he allow the interjections of the "translator" to interrupt the flow of the mystery too much. It happens a little, but that is to be expected, I suppose.
This is a brilliant novel of stories within stories, circles within circles. It isn't for you if you like your crime fiction straightforward and cosy (as well as being complex, there are one or two slightly brutal themes), but if you like to be forced to think, then this is the best novel you could have the wisdom to select!
The premise of the novel is that a young member of Plato's Academy - Tryamachus - has been killed by wolves. A small inconsistency on the body, plus his mentor's - Diagoras - last moments with his student leads Hercules to take on the job (though he professes he is solving it for himself, even as he takes a fee) to discover the culprits. Along the way there are three other murders and a great deal of philosophizing as he works hs way through the intellectual and physical barriers thrown up to prevent him finding the truth.
The one problem with this intellectual murder mystery - although along the same vein as Eco, but not as good - is that the reader is constantly forced to interrupt the narrative to read the subplot of the modern day Translator as a series of footnotes. This causes The Athenian Murders to become fractured and halts the easy reading flow of narrative
However, the novel succeeds admirably on many different levels. At a basic level the denouement is as you would expect for a mytery set at this time and place. Combined with the endless aim for philosophical purity, vying with the descent into decadence beguilingly offered by mysterious cults the novels moves neatly from scene to scene laying level upon level of twist and suggestion as to both motive and fact.
Hercules laconic decipherments offset nicely against the sense of mortification that his 'hirer' - Diogenes - develops as each murder occurs and he is forced to accept Reality. The plot itself is simple but the - at first - self-congratulatory nature of the Translator who feels the need to explain each and every clever image to the reader becomes a trifle wearisome. It is an interesting dichotomy. Many people would say the point of a novel is that every single reader 'sees' the words and images in a unique way at each reading. What the novel is trying to prove/disprove is that the eidetic nature of the book means every single reader will always arrive at the same Key no matter when or where the book is read.
The nature of this philosophical argument and the novel's attempt to both explain, discuss and demonstrate it is what makes The Athenian Murders thought provoking.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Somoza's 'Murders' tests the limits of literature, and shows various conflicts between the identity of the translator,...Read more