Gary Corby's debut novel, THE PERICLES COMMISSION, comes out at the major booksellers today (heretofore only available at a few indie bookstores).
In honor of Gary's book, I have braved the depths of the gift that Gary brought me from his homeland down under, which you may remember from this post: Vegemite. What is Vegemite, you may ask? Well, on the tube I have, it says "Concentrated Barley Extract." Sounds delicious, no?
Supposedly, there is a whole continent of people who actually like this stuff. I'm not entirely convinced that it's not just a prank they play on foreigners. I've had it once before, a long, long time ago, and that was enough to scar me for life. But for Gary, an all-around awesome guy, I chanced it again.
First though, I had to make sure that the tube was free of demons. I did this by letting the cats smell it.
This may not have been the best test, because they'll smell anything.
But they seemed to like it. Nyxie even licked it and didn't immediately keel over, so I decided it was safe for me to try.
So, I got out the necessary ingredients, according to my Australian author-friend Gary: toast, butter, and of course, the Vegemite.
He advised a very thin layer. It came out kind of watery at first and then like toothpaste the color of the pits of hell. I did my best, but... stupid bagels and their stupid nooks and crannies. There were little Vegemite mines all over it.
It took me a full five minutes to work up the courage to actually put that in my mouth. I of course filled this time by cleaning up, repeatedly.
Note the look of fear already on my face (and sorry these next couple pics are so dark):
And the reaction shot:
Time for a cure! I grabbed a glass of water but even that could not tame the saltiness.
So I reached for one of these, and whaddya know-- it worked!
So that, my friends, is Vegemite. I've survived (long enough) to write this blog post, and I have to admit that it wasn't AWFUL. Just, you know, horrible. Kidding! Okay, it was... interesting. Let's put it that way. If you like salt, you'll love Vegemite. (And Gary, I am grateful for the gift, as you should know. There are ALL sorts of things I can do with the rest! Mostly pranks involving my husband and the sort of close friends who won't never speak to me again, but it will get used, don't worry!)
And now, on to something we can all love: Gary's book.
I'll keep this review short and sweet because a.) I think book reviews can be terribly dull and b.) you really should just go buy it and read it for yourself. But here goes, my (un)professional opinion.
In brief, a summary:
Nicolaos, the son of a sculptor in Athens at the very roots of democracy, must investigate the murder of Ephialtes, an important politician, and protect his new-found love interest, Diotima, from a fate worse than death: marriage to a jerk. Yeah, I said jerk. I know, I know, but it's not like I'm Booklist or Publisher's Weekly. Anyway, back to the story. Nicolaos (Nico) is commissioned to investigate the murder by Pericles, another up-and-coming politician, who promises to tutor the young man out of his sculptor roots and into politics if he catches the killer.
What I loved about it:
For a history buff like me, this is the easiest part: the history. Gary does a fantastic job of putting you smack dab in Athens in the fifth century B.C.E. I loved this book because it is like no other out there right now. There are other historical mysteries, but none quite like this. Not only do you feel and experience the world of Classical Athens (and despite being a city, Athens really was a whole world back then), but you are there right at the birth of democracy. It feels like a history-buff's dream-- going back in time to watch as something important unfolds. Gary makes a promise to his readers that he will treat the story and the history diligently, and he doesn't disappoint.
I also loved how the story kept me guessing about the killer even after I was assured by the narrator that I knew the answer. This is a masterful tactic and one that I've rarely seen employed in modern mysteries; it recalls to me the likes of Agatha Christie novels, which are the mysteries I was teethed on.
What I didn't like about it:
Not much of anything. In fact, the only thing I can really think of is that there were so many story lines coming together at the end that it did get a little confusing, especially because there were two pivotal characters with the same name, which often made it difficult to tell which was which. This, however, did not ruin the book for me or take me out of the story, but rather just made me have to read an eensy bit more carefully, which in a book full of intellectualism, isn't exactly a bad thing.
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend THE PERICLES COMMISSION to everyone who loves history and a good who-dun-it. I can't wait for books two and three (and beyond)! And I must mean it since I'm still saying it after the man tried to kill me with Vegemite.