Monday, October 31, 2011

The winner, my review of THE IONIA SANCTION, and a spooooooky interview with author Gary Corby!

I am going to try my best to do this without spoilers.

Okay. So. Some of you may have heard recently that I managed to get my eager little paws on a copy of Gary Corby's upcoming second mystery, THE IONIA SANCTION. Which I then proceeded to read in three nights (fast for me, lately), staying up until 1:30 AM the last night trying not to wake up my husband so I could finish it.

Because, you guys, I LOVED IT. Gary has such an easy way of writing history. I'm sure it's not easy for him, but he makes it look easy. I love how his books fit neatly into these little spaces between real events (more on that later!)

One of the things that I really like about Gary's books is that he doesn't shy away from being historically accurate to soothe modern sensibilities. The main character, Nico, acts exactly as a young Hellene male should: like he's in charge. There's one part in the story where Nico buys a young girl as a slave, and despite the fact that he does this to save her from a much worse fate, he still expects her to treat him with the respect due a master. This dynamic is both comical within the setting of the story and appreciable from a historical point of view. Nico only acts as he would be expected to. In Ancient times, slaves were property, animals were tools, and men couldn't marry without their father's permission.

The mystery in this story is well-crafted, with an appropriate body count and an even-more appropriate exposure to the brutality of the ancient world. I think Gary does an excellent job of brushing up to the bad/gory parts but not focusing on them to the point that the book gets gruesome and loses focus. The plot is clear and easy to follow, and the twists are well-spaced. The pacing is compelling (obviously, since I couldn't put it down), and I love the historical lessons woven throughout the narrative without feeling forced.

My favorite part? Well, as a horse person, I loved the part where Nico tries to impress a lady and ride a horse. Actually, I just loved that horse. And Gary's inclusion of said horse in the cast of characters at the beginning of the book.

I also really liked the relationship between Diotima and Nico, which only gets better in this book.

So while I could probably go on and on and on about THE IONIA SANCTION, I think I will stop there and let Gary speak for himself a little bit.

Me: What's your favorite death in the book?

Gary: A father never has favorites among his children! I guess that's a weird way to talk about killing people, but welcome to the demented world of mystery authors.

I don't know that it's a favorite, but the very first murder in the first book seems to have become the stuff of legend (A dead man fell from the sky, etc.). There's a death in the second book, The Ionia Sanction, that I had lots of fun writing. That killing appears about halfway through, but in early drafts, it was the first in the book. I was told in no uncertain terms that scene had to be moved back! It seems I did a good job of evoking reader reaction.

The importance of a death in a mystery isn't the ick factor, it's what it means to the reader. I once disemboweled three women, and no one batted an eyelid. But then I wrote a scene in which a woman was merely punched unconscious, and I couldn't get it past the editor. Context is everything.

Me: Did the Greeks have a holiday like or similar to Halloween?

Gary: Anthesteria!

The Greeks had a zillion more festival days than us. That's because their calendar didn't have weeks, so there were no weekends. The only way to get time off work was to hold festivals in honor of the gods.

Four of them were in honor of Dionysos, the god of wine and fun parties, and of these the oldest festival -- so old it was considered ancient even in classical times -- was Anthesteria. It went over three days.

The first day was the Day of the Jars. The previous year's wine was opened and everyone had a taste. Children were adorned in flowers.

The second day was the Day of the Libations. Everyone partied. People dressed up in costumes.

Weirdly, both days were considered hugely unholy. During this time, the psyches of the dead rose from Hades to walk the earth.

The third day was the Day of Pots. It was a festival of the dead, designed to drive the psyches back to Hades. People offered food sacrifices to the dead, and to Hermes Chthonios. You probably won't have much trouble working out where Lovecraft's Cthulhu comes from.

Me: One of my very favorite parts of your books is how you find little pockets of intrigue in real history to tuck your stories into. Has it been hard finding those pockets and putting Nico in them? Of THE PERICLES COMMISSION and THE IONIA SANCTION, what is your favorite coincidence that worked out this way?

Gary: Searching for intrigue in ancient Athens is like looking for toys in a playroom. You only have to take one step inside to get Lego embedded in your foot.

Inserting Nico into ancient conspiracies is more of a challenge, because I don't want to break history. So I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to do it. In the case of The Pericles Commission, because the assassination of Ephialtes was so little documented, I had room to move. (I certainly didn't think so at the time, but I do now!). The Ionia Sanction was much more of a challenge because one of the central characters, a fellow named Themistocles, was extremely famous and thoroughly well documented. I must have spent a month doing nothing but think about how to thread my plot into known history. This sort of puzzle is one of the most fun parts of the writing.

The best coincidence is a toughie, because it's surprising how often coincidence comes to my aid. Here's an example: that death I mentioned before, in the middle of Ionia Sanction...I put that in because the plot required it, but then I discovered while doing research that a real historical person had died exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, almost exactly 60 years before the events of my story. Needless to say I wrote that into the plot!

Me: If Nico could dress up as anything or anyone he wanted for a day, what/ who do you think he would pick?

Gary: Diotima's the one who's into wearing disguises. She'll dress as a man to get into places she's not supposed to go.

Somehow I can see Nico dressed as James Bond. In fact they'd make a terrific partnership. Nico would almost certainly do something that got Bond killed.

Thanks so much, Gary, for taking the time to answer these questions (and write such a fun book)!

And congratulations to Amalia T., who won the IONIA SANCTION ARC prize pack! Thanks to everyone who entered!

THE IONIA SANCTION comes out on November 8th. Pre-order at or B&

Happy Anthesteria, everyone!

1 comment:

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Awesome! I love learning something while also enjoying a great story. And Anthesteria sounds like so much fun! I wish we had three-day (paid) festivals, and keep weekends too of course.

Looking forward to reading Gary's 2nd book!