In Australian author Gary Corby’s Sacred Games, his second ancient historical, Athenian sleuth Nico must solve a murder in the midst of the Olympic Games.
Where did you get the idea for this series?
I read about a real-life murder that happened in classical Athens, one that was never solved. It became the basis for The Pericles Commission, the first Nico mystery. Athens was the world’s first democratic state. But what few know is that the man who created the first democracy, Ephialtes, was assassinated. It was a for-real political thriller that happened 2,500 years ago. I have a young politician named Pericles hire my hero to solve the crime. He, in turn, gets unavoidable help from his irritating 12-year-old brother, a lad named Socrates.
How did you start writing fiction?
I pulled my favorite mysteries down from the shelf (we have about 6,000 books in the house). I took a pencil and marked all the scene boundaries on those great books. Then I worked out what each scene did, how they linked together, which characters came and went, how the tension rose, how the plots twisted. I learned narrative structure from the masters. When you’re a writer, every great book is a lesson in how to write.
And did your work as a software developer help at all?
It made me organized. I’m very serious about schedules. Also, I’m thorough about getting period details right.
How hard is that to do?
Stopping myself from doing yet more book research is the hardest part. It’s so easy to delve into some little detail, and then look up to see that hours have passed. It was fascinating to come to the realization that people back then were just like people today. They had the same desires, fears, ambitions, lusts. But they lived out their passions in a time that’s like something out of epic fantasy.
How do you guard against the biases, political or otherwise, of those writing the historical sources you rely on?
When you read an ancient text, you’re reading one man’s view, but at least it’s the view of someone on the ground as it happened, or as close as we can get. It’s like reading the news these days: you read the article, and then you factor in the likely political bias of the person who’s writing the news. Distance in time doesn’t help. Bizarre as it may seem, there are a few modern historians who are still fighting the Peloponnesian War. And the funny thing is, I suspect that 80% of the pro-Spartans are of a left-wing disposition, and 80% of the pro-Athenians are right-wing.