Sacred Games

Written by Gary Corby
Review by Barry Webb

It is 460 BC, and the 80th Olympiad is about to begin. Arakos the Spartan, one of the favorites for the Pankration, Ancient Greece’s equivalent of MMA, is found murdered in the forest. His main rival, the Athenian Timodemus, is immediately accused and locked up for the duration of the games, with his trial and expected execution slated for after the end of the games. Timodemus’ best friend, Nicolaos from Athens, is assigned to investigate the murder along with the Spartan Markos. They have four days to solve the mystery and determine the fate of Timodemus—and they have to do so amidst rising talk of war between Sparta and Athens.

Complicating matters is that both the accused and the victim were lovers of Klymene, Priestess of Demeter and the only woman allowed to view the games—a religious necessity since her “purity” as a priestess was pleasing to the gods. As potential witnesses to the crime begin getting bumped off as well, Nicolaos is finally able to determine who the real murderer was and how the crime was committed, thus winning a bet with Markos and an Olympic crown of his own.

Unfortunately, the writing is often 21st-century groan-worthy clumsy. But don’t let that fool you—this is a well-paced story that kept me turning the pages. It is extremely well-researched and taught me a lot about Greek culture and the Olympic Games. Read it for the history and the story.