Monday, 2 May 2011

Peter Alan Orchard: Historical mystery - 'A Pig in the Roses'

A Pig in the Roses is set in Athens in the fifth century BC, just at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. After a crime, due legal process - or in some cases revenge - is a matter for the victim's family. So, when his wife's uncle Makron is accused of murder, the young merchant Diokles has to do his duty. First, however, he must find the real killer and that is not an easy task, or a safe one.

Here's an excerpt:

Sosigenes’ dead face stared up at them, its lines fixed in a grimace of pain and bewilderment. A fly landed unhindered on the old man’s open left eye. Disconcerted, Diokles nudged the body with his foot and it rolled over.

‘Oh!‘ Helike covered her mouth with her hand and backed away. Out of the farmer's neck, close to the base of the skull, a short length of metal stuck out. Diokles knelt, reached out his hand and drew the metal out slowly, a fine punch used by a sculptor or mason for delicate work. Its thin iron blade had been driven violently upwards, deep into Sosigenes' brain.

 Diokles wiped the punch distractedly on a tuft of grass and weeds, but could think of nothing to do with it afterwards and Hipponikos took it gently from his fingers. The potter stuck it in his belt, shook his head and breathed deeply. 'May the Furies hunt the man who did this to the end of his days.'

’They will,’ Helike said, grim-faced. ’Oh, they will!’ Pulling distractedly at her copper hair, she turned away from the scene and strode for home.

Diokles knelt and touched the dead face, still warm but damp from the fountain. As he moved Sosigenes’ head away from the water, the mouth fell open and Diokles gasped. 'Look at this!'

They were alone now in the alley. Hipponikos bent his knees and peered down. On the old man's tongue lay an obol, the small coin traditionally placed there as payment for the spirit's boat journey over the River Styx.

'That,’ said Diokles, ‘was put there by whoever killed him, who certainly kept a cool head. If it had been Sosigenes' small change, it would have been safely under his tongue, not on top. You know how these country people are.' He looked up at Hipponikos. 'Whoever killed Sosigenes must have been cold to do such a thing and then wait afterwards to pay the ferryman.'

Hipponikos ran a massive hand across his forehead, then wiped the sweat from it onto a tunic red with clay-dust. 'Helike, where was Sosigenes staying?'

'With his wife’s daughter, Myrrhine. Married to Simon the baker.‘ Helike suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. ’His wife - what am I thinking of? Someone must tell Themisto!'

Hipponikos started back to the shop. 'You guard the body, Diokles. I'll send Skylax. Taking a message is one of the things he’s good at.’

Diokles picked Sosigenes’ cap out of a corner and laid it over the old man's empty, staring eyes.

A Pig in the Roses is published by Smashwords. Buy links, review and more excerpts can be found on my blog:

My Smashwords page includes The House on Athene Street, an ancient Greece adventure for children and Voices from the Past, a collection of short (mostly very short) stories.

The Greek inscription around the edge of the sixth-century BC engraved stone from Athens above reads 'I am the boundary-stone of the Agora', and it plays its own small part in A Pig in the Roses.

Best wishes,

STOP PRESS: A Pig in the Roses is a miserly $1.99 this week at Smashwords if you use coupon ST73U (offer ends on June 3).

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