A Darker God: A Laetitia Talbot Mystery (Mortalis) is my introduction to Barbara Cleverly fiction, and I enjoyed getting to know Laetitia Talbot who reminds me of Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey and Tasha Alexander's Emily Ashton, although Talbot's adventures take place in a later era.
It is 1928, and Letty, a forward-thinking Britisher, has just returned to Athens, Greece from an archeological dig. Her mentor, Professor Sir Andrew Merriman -- former soldier, " 'digger, classicist, and writer' " -- thinks someone is following him. It turns out to be Percy Montacute, a Scotland Yard chief inspector seconded to Greece. The two men served together in the military, and they catch up on the news. Merriman explains he is planning to stage a version of Aeschylus's play, Agamemnon.
A few months later, the dress rehearsal for the play is in full swing in an outdoor theater near the Acropolis. Letty is watching from front row center with Maud Merriman, Andrew's wife. "As the sun set, the evening sky began to flush with grey-purple light....It should have been a moment of deep peace but, somewhere just out of sight, a man was screaming in his death throes." As it turns out, the play and reality coalesce, and by the end of that evening a real body has been discovered. The Greek police and Chief Inspector Montacute are on the case. Letty is volunteered by Montacute to help him with his investigations, first as a recorder of witness information and then as someone whose familiarity with the Merriman house can ease the interviews there. But before twenty-four hours pass, someone else dies, and the victim, breathing her last, accuses a young woman who played the husband-killer Clytemnestra the evening before. Letty and her beau, rather agnostic Vicar Gunning, find themselves in a swirl of intrigue, both political and personal. Letty is certain the wrong person is being held for murder, but how to prove it?
Behind aspects of the intricate plot is a 1923 historical event called "The Population Exchange Between Greece and Turkey" which uprooted millions and caused deaths that could have been avoided. In A DARKER GOD, one man craves eye-for-an-eye revenge for the death of loved ones during that transfer, and he has targeted someone close to Letty. With a storytelling symmetry, the denouement takes everyone back to the amphitheater and AGAMEMNON, but the fates seem to have decreed that this production is doomed.
Cleverly seemingly effortlessly incorporates the echoes of Alexander of Macedon, Agamemnon, and the overseeing "dark god," Dionysus into her tale. She also finds place for the early twentieth century Eleutherios Venizelos, "world-renowned revolutionary, politician, and hero" and his "glamorous, mysterious" wife, Helena, as well as a few other historical figures such as the deposed George the Second, High King of the Hellenes.
Laetitia Talbot first appeared in The Tomb of Zeus (Laetitia Talbot Mysteries) and then in Bright Hair About the Bone (Laetitia Talbot Mysteries). This, her third outing, will likely not be her last as she has unfinished business in Salonika. And that's a good thing because it is a pleasure to follow such literary-laced, cleverly-plotted historical whodunits as A DARKER GOD.