A DARKER GOD by Barbara Cleverly
“The scream followed the unmistakable sound of a blade thrusting into flesh….”
“It came again, the same butcher’s blow, accompanied this time by a grunt of effort. A second piercing shriek of surprise and outrage turned abruptly into a guttural rasping: the gargle of a dying man whose lungs refuse to function, whose air passages are filling with blood. And yet the unseen victim went on fighting to snatch one more breath.”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (JUL 24, 2010)
A Darker God is my introduction to Barbara Cleverly fiction, and I enjoyed getting to know her Laetitia Talbot, who reminds me of Deanna Raybourn’s Julia Grey and Tasha Alexander’s Emily Ashton, although Talbot gallivants and sleuths about in a later era.
It is 1928, and Letty, a forward-thinking Britisher, has just returned to Athens, Greece from an archeological dig elsewhere in the country. The man who sent her, her mentor, Professor Sir Andrew Merriman is a very accomplished former soldier, “digger, classicist, and writer” whom she respects and with whom she has maintained various kinds of ties over the years. She isn’t the only woman to do so. Both his professional and his personal past could hold the key to why he suspects someone is shadowing him. On one solitary walk, he feels especially uneasy that he’s being followed. It turns out to be Percy Montacute, a Scotland Yard chief inspector seconded to Greece. The two men served together in the military, and they catch up on the news. Among other things, Merriman explains he is planning to stage a version of Aeschylus’s play, Agamemnon, and hopes to get Montacute involved. Letty, another young woman named Thetis Templeton, the attache at the British Embassy (who is playing the title role) and other expat acquaintances and friends of Merriman’s will take part in the production.
A few months later the dress rehearsal for the play is in full swing in an outdoor theater near the Acropolis. Script on her lap, Letty is watching from front row center with Maud Merriman, Andrew’s wife. “As the sun set, the evening sky began to flush with grey-purple light….It should have been a moment of deep peace but, somewhere just out of sight, a man was screaming in his death throes.” As it turns out, the play’s killing of Agamemnon coalesces with the demise of someone in the company. By the end of that evening a real body — calling to mind the famous scene of Marat dead in the bathtub — has been discovered.
The Greek police and Chief Inspector Montacute are on the case. Letty is volunteered by Montacute to help him with his investigations, first as a recorder of witness information and then as someone whose familiarity with the Merriman house can ease the interviews there. But before twenty-four hours pass, someone else has expired, and that victim, breathing her last, accuses Thetis, who played the husband-killer Clytemnestra the evening before. Letty and her beau, rather agnostic Vicar William Gunning, find themselves in a swirl of intrigue, both political and personal. Letty is certain the wrong person is being held for murder, but how to prove it?
Behind aspects of the intricate plot is a 1923 historical event called “The Population Exchange Between Greece and Turkey” which uprooted millions and caused deaths that could have been avoided. In A Darker God, one man craves eye-for-an-eye revenge for the death of loved ones during that forced transfer, and he has targeted people close to Letty.
Cleverly skillfully weaves various strands of history and myth into her story: not only the recent 1920’s history, but also that from bygone millennia. She seemingly effortlessly incorporates the echoes of Alexander of Macedon, Agamemnon, and the overseeing “dark god,” Dionysus into her tale. She also finds place for the early twentieth century Eleutherios Venizelos, “world-renowned revolutionary, politician, and hero” and his “glamorous, mysterious” wife, Helena, as well as a few other historical figures such as the deposed George the Second, High King of the Hellenes.
With dramatic flair these figures each take the stage, either figuratively or literally. The story of Clytemnestra and Agememnon for example: “The queen’s affections were all for her husband’s cousin, Aegisthus, who had ignored the call to war and stayed behind in the palace working his mischief. The pair of lovers had determined that this bath of Agamemnon’s would be his last, and Clytemnestra, bursting with long-suppressed hatred and resentment of her husband, had insisted on delivering the death blow herself.” Cleverly grippingly works the Greek tragedy into her own plot. In fact, with a storytelling symmetry, the denouement takes everyone back to the amphitheater and Agamemnon, but the fates seem to have decreed that this production, like the ancient king himself, is doomed.
Love shows itself in many of its manifestations — blossoming, persevering, waning, extinguished — in these pages. Bitterness, longing, regret, as well as hopefulness and joy are expressed by various characters along the way, and we’re reminded that passion, adoration, and devotion may lead to heinous acts as well as to pure, generous ones.
Laetitia Talbot first appeared in The Tomb of Zeus and then in Bright Hair About the Bone. This, her third outing, will, one can bet, not be her last as she has unfinished business in Salonika. And that’s a good thing because it is a pleasure to follow such literary-laced, cleverly-plotted historical whodunits as A Darker God.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 6 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Bantam; Original edition (March 23, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Publisher page on Barbara Cleverly|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More authors to enjoy:Elizabeth Peters|
Laetitia Letty Talbot series:
Joe Sandilands Mysteries:
- The Last Kashmiri Rose (2001)
- Ragtime in Simla (2002)
- The Damascened Blade (2003)
- The Palace Tiger (2004)
- The Bee’s Kiss (2005)
- Tug of War (2006)
- Folly du Jour (2007)
- Strange Images of Death (2010)
- The Blood Royal (2011)