An inexperienced sleuth learns that the deeper the mystery, the higher the stakes.
Pericles, the leader of Athens, calls his young protégé Nicolaos to investigate the death of Thorion, a proxenos—that is, a sort of lobbyist for a city—from Ephesus, in Ionia, across the Aegean Sea from Athens. An apparent suicide, Thorion was found hanged, and there's a note to Pericles in which he confesses betraying his office. It would seem to be an open-and-shut case, except that Nicolaos notices some odd details that indicate the scene was staged. Further confirmation comes when Nicolaos is attacked and barely escapes with his life. Characteristically, Pericles ignores his injuries and asks why Nicolaos didn't catch his attacker. And he orders him to find the killer. Thorion's son Onteles gets the investigation rolling when he visits Nicolaos, implicating a slave named Asia, whom Nicolaos literally rescues from the auction block. Far from being a girl of the streets, let alone the lynchpin of a murder mystery, Asia maintains that she's the daughter of Themistocles, the Satrap of Ephesus' neighboring city, Magnesia. But is she? Nicolaos does what any young sleuth in distress would do: He consults his parents. A journey to Magnesia uncovers a far more pernicious plot than a single killing, with literary conundrums figuring in the solution.
Nicolaos' sophomore mystery (The Pericles Commission, 2010) is abundantly appointed with maps, historical notes, a list of characters with pronunciation assistance and bromides to open each chapter. With action scenes, a colorful setting and narrow escapes, it reads less like a whodunit than an adventure story, albeit a lively one.