A lawyer in ancient Athens defends a man on trial for murdering his wife’s lover in Garnett’s (I, Paris, 2013) historical novel.
The real-life fourth-century B.C.E. Athenian advocate and speechwriter Lysias is the main character in this fictional tale; his life was chronicled by Greek historian Plutarch, and his works, in part, still survive today. He’s a logographos—a person tasked with transforming the raw facts of his clients’ courtroom cases into perfectly balanced speeches to sway a jury. Although readers will be familiar with the concept of a jury trial, Garnett excels at dramatizing the drastic differences between the modern-day process and its ancient Athenian version: “Anyone caught in the toils of these procedures,” Lysias reflects, “faced a sudden, real prospect of exile, confiscation, loss of civil rights or death, after trial of a day or less, with virtually no rules, without appeal.” One person who gets caught in these very procedures is Euphiletus, a gruff, brutish, but not entirely unsympathetic small-hold farmer who learns that his wife is cheating on him with a neighbor, Eratosthenes. He kills the man and then faces the full wrath of Athenian law as his fate falls into Lysias’ hands. The case proves far more complicated than it appears on the surface, however, and Garnett does a confident job of deepening his plot and drawing in more intriguing supporting characters, from Lysias’ brilliant slave, Timon, to the complexly drawn prostitutes of the city. The extent of the author’s background research is evident without being ostentatious, although he does have a weakness for imitating the artificial, stage-setting locutions of Socratic dialogues: “But now I see the servants bringing us refreshment,” Lysias says at one point. “Allow me to postpone my humble tale until we have enjoyed the good fare set before us.” However, the end result feels wonderfully authentic, and it’s sure to please fans of Steven Saylor’s and Lindsey Davis’ works.
A richly atmospheric murder mystery.