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A Choice of Murder by Peter Vansittart

A Choice of Murder

by Peter Vansittart

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I enjoyed this book, my first experience reading this particular author. I had never heard of Timoleon of Syracuse, a general and statesman in the days of Philip of Macedon. Two things kept me from rating this book as a 4: although very well written, the author's style took getting used to and I also could not connect with any of the characters. I felt like I was observing the story through a glass wall.

Timoleon [called Timo in the novel], born and raised in Corinth, is exiled from that city for fratricide, having assassinated his brother, Timophanes, the cruel ruler of Corinth. After many years living in the wilderness, he is found and called upon to liberate the city of Syracuse on Sicily from the threat of Carthage. [Syracuse is a Corinthian client-city or colony.] With his two faithful generals, Apelles and Theodotos [the latter he met on his wanderings], he defeats Carthaginians at the Battle of Cremesus in the midst of a gigantic storm. He becomes the ruler of Syracuse and improves the lives of the people. He defeats other Sicilian cities who support Carthage. When he is offered the crown, he refuses gracefully and quotes Pindar: "When the Despot first appears, he is a Protector." He goes on to say, "I am warning you against myself....Government is an art, rigorous, painful, sometimes fatal...."When the problem is solved, the ruler must have his say, then go quietly away." He realizes power can corrupt. Until the end of his life, he remains a respected elder statesman.

Plutarch greatly admired Timoleon and wrote extensively on him: http://ancienthistory.about.com/libra...

I regret I couldn't get close to Timo, although admiring him. The author used very many metaphors from myth. Once the style did not bother me any more, I began noticing how well crafted the novel was and how each word chosen was perfect. I enjoyed the exciting Battle of Cremesus; the description of the Eleusian Mysteries, of which Timo becomes an initiate; also the last section: "Darkness", about Timo's blindness and last days. As far as the title, which sounds like one for a second-rate murder mystery: I think the author is asking us to think about the morality or non-morality of political assassination. Through the whole novel, Timo is conflicted about his fratricide. The author brings up other concepts; this is a thoughtful novel.

Recommended for those who love historical fiction set in the ancient world. ( )
1 vote janerawoof | Jun 16, 2016 |
Strange, individualistic novel on the life of Timoleon of Syracuse. Very atmospheric in its depiction of ancient Sicily and the sheer viciousness of war, with an overriding sense of Greek tragedy and Nemesis. ( )
  JaneAnneShaw | Nov 24, 2010 |
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[...] In Sicilian quarries, and many by the spear and arrow
And many more who told their lies too late
Caught in the eternal factions and reactions
Of the city-state
And free speech shivered on the pikes of Macedonia ...

from Louis MacNeice, 'Autumn Journal IX'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0720608511, Paperback)

A sophisticated, thought-provoking historical novel, set in ancient Greece and Sicily. Vansittart is adept at emphasizing the ideas and personal motives behind historical events. The protagonist is fourth century B.C. soldier and political leader Timoleum of Syracuse, who liberated that city from the control of - Carthage - a fine meditation on Western civilization at an early crossroads."" - Publishers Weekly. ""A concentrated, enigmatic and elegantly cumulative portrait."" - Kirkus Reviews. ""Certain crucial retouchings in the narrative material lend the work a moral intensity that would have gratified Plutarch himself."" - NY Times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:06 -0400)

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