“Shadows of Athens” by JM Alvey


Thanks to Orion and NetGalley for providing me with an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

If there’s a book written about Ancient Greece, I’m gonna read it. I’m not really a huge fan of the crime genre but this sounded intriguing and I was looking forward to reading a murder mystery set in Ancient Greece. 

The novel follows Philocles, a playwright, who comes home to find a dead man in front of his house. Rude right? He takes it upon himself to find out more about the murder and what at first looks like a simple robbery becomes much more complex. Why was the corpse left outside his door? Why was the man asking about him before he died? 

The real strength of this book is the vivid and engaging descriptions of Ancient Athens and its people and customs. The author’s Classical education is apparent, and the nuances of the character’s lives are perfectly captured. There are little snatches of observation that bring the story to life e.g. Philocles’ partner Zosime openly speaking to men when an Athenian woman wouldn’t. Subtle nods to cultural differences between territories in the Greek world that persist even to this day were a nice touch.   

I’m a h0 for anything Ancient Greece but some people might find the sheer amount of detail unnecessary and distracting and there can be a sense that some of the observations have been shoehorned just a tad. 

The characters themselves let the side down a little, particular Philocles. I personally just didn’t find him very interesting or compelling as a character and I don’t feel like I really got to know him. I did enjoy Zosime’s character, but none of the other supporting characters really stuck out for me. The main mystery itself is also not particularly gripping and is left mostly unresolved, presumably as this novel is the beginning of a series. I didn’t really care about the sideplot of the staging of Philocles play either.  

Overall, this novel is well written and as someone with an avid interest in the Classical World I enjoyed it. It had a real sense of time and place and the cultural and historical observations were well written. In a crime themed novel however, the mystery is key to the story and I felt this wasn’t particularly interesting. This book is something a little different and will appeal to anyone with an interest in Ancient Greece, others might struggle to engage with it however.  

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