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The Athenian Murders

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  778 ratings  ·  85 reviews
In classical Athens, one of the pupils of Plato's Academy is found dead. Suspecting this wasn't an accident, his teacher asks Herakles, the Decipherer of Enigmas, to investigate. A second plot unfolds in parallel through the footnotes of the translator of the text.
Paperback, 314 pages
Published December 1st 2002 by Time Warner Books UK (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 06, 2011 surfmadpig rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Italo Calvino
I was handed this book by a friend and started reading it without knowing anything about it, not even having read the backcover. I love it when that happens, because everything is a surprise and there can be no prejudice at all.

So I started, and immediately I thought, "eeek, a "period book". I generally tend to dislike writers who pretend that we know enough about an era to be able to write about its every-day life realistically. I had issues especially concerning the language, because I read it...more
Oct 02, 2011 Louize rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves mystery in multiple layers!
A very clever book. Set in Plato’s Athens, the story begins with a well-born youth found dead, devoured by wolves near a forest. Diagoras, a tutor at the Academy, acquired the services of Heracles Pontor “The Decipherer of Enigmas” to discover the truth behind his pupil’s death. Heracles, prompted by his own curiosity, agreed to solve the enigma of the youth’s death. Despite their complete contrast -one philosopher and the other a realist- the two worked together in solving the mystery.

Rich Stoehr
It's a story within a story, within another story. It's an eidetic novel. It's a philosophical progression. It's a self-reflexive text. It's a quest for truth. It's a mystery, in many senses of the word. It's "The Sixth Sense," but rendered in prose and about a thousand times better. It's pure poetry in parts. It's a novel about ideas and words, and whether one can exist without the other.

It's one of the best books I've read in years.

It's difficult to say anything specific about "The Athenian Mu...more
Like The Club Dumas, this book is not what it appears to be. To say more would spoil one of the most ingenious literary constructs I've had the pleasure of reading: suffice it to say that it's one of those books that you immediately want to start again when you get to the astonishing ending, just to see if the author cheated at any point. Which he never does, and in fact this makes the second reading almost more pleasurable than the first.

Yes at heart it is a murder mystery, and if you don't lik...more
Set in ancient Greece in the time of Plato’s Academy, this postmodern, heavily footnoted murder mystery was ostensibly a scholar’s translation of a Greek text, also called The Athenian Murders, written by an anonymous author just after the Peloponnesian War. Like the Quixote, therefore, it was a meta-translation, a text put forward as a translation of a fictional original by a narrator who was conscious of the fact. Here, the fictional translator himself gave his comments on the story and his tr...more
Jan 26, 2009 Dan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: metafiction aficianados
Shelves: novels
In a blurb on the back cover, a reviewer compares this book to Pale Fire and The Name of the Rose. I would agree with that, but with the qualification that Somoza's book is a lot less demanding of the reader's work. Moreover, I'd add another couple of titles that came to mind while reading this: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter: A Novel (perhaps also The Mezzanine and Mulligan Stew: A Novel?). Readers who liked these metafictional works will likely enjoy Som...more
Mildly interesting effort to weave a debate about Dionysian mania vs Platonic forms into a 'postmodern' mystery novel set in Athens after the Peloponnesian War. Involves a translation theme.
Terri Lynn
This book was a surprise to me. I love ancient history/culture/mythology and I also love mysteries. This book was a wonderful blend of both. We start with a modern day translator of an ancient text laying out what happened. His "footnotes" are actually part of the story. As he goes along, he becomes convinced that the ancient writer has hidden secret messages in the text and as he continues to translate , he finds that these secret messages begin to refer to HIM and in a threatening way!

The que...more
A unique story! Unusual structure, superb and intriguing, one of the most original new novels of fiction, intelligent and full with philosophy... Reminds me a lot of Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose", which is one of my favorite novels! A brilliant mystery-novel of story within story within story...
I won't say anything specific, only - My highest recommendation!!!
Eva Grace
A well thought out book but I'm not too sure it works.

As a philosophy student I was interested enough in the ideas behind it but I seem to remember being left thinking "Hmmm there's something not quite there" as opposed to a perhaps more positive response of "Ohhh you clever little devil."

All the same, a relatively enjoyable and fast paced read.
Ryan Pait
I instantly became interested in this book when I read what it was about: a translator works on an ancient Greek murder mystery, only to realize that parts of it are being reflected in his own life. I'm really fascinated with Greek mythology and ancient Greece in general, and I love mysteries, so this seemed right up my alley.

The Athenian Murders starts promisingly enough: the translation of the ancient text is presented as the main body, with the translator's thoughts and story written in the f...more
The novel is set out like a text describing horrific murders in ancient Greece during the time of Plato; as we learn from the footones, it is being translated by a modern day scholar who gets pulled into the narrative to the point that he finds hints scattered throughout the text that seem to point towards him. He is also convinced that the text is nothing but a code which leads to something much more important. As the translator seems to get more and more agitated, there comes a time when we, t...more
Violeta Petrovska
Уникатно, ме воодушеви книгава, со нетрпение чекам нова книга од авторов....
Intéressant... mérite certainement réflexion.
Voici un roman à plusieurs niveaux, assez malin. C'est d'une part la traduction d'un récit fictif de l'Antiquité grecque, relatant des meurtres mystérieux et leur résolution par un esprit brillant. Mais c'est aussi l'histoire du traducteur de ce récit, qui au fur et à mesure de son avancée fait remarquer dans ses notes que le texte en cache un autre : il abrite en son sein un message, un message inquiétant, qui semble menacer sa propre vie…

L'idée du récit à trois dimensions est assez géniale, ma...more
Ian Mapp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aparentemente estamos perante uma intrigante história policial passada na Grécia antiga. Três jovens alunos da Academia de Platão, surgem assassinados nas ruas de Antenas, com os corpos mutilados, e pelas características pensa-se, inicialmente, que poderá ter sido um ataque de lobos.
Diágoras, mestre dos três jovens e seguidor de Platão, solicita a Heracles Pontor, famoso Decifrador de Enigmas, que o ajude a perceber o que terá levado a estes crimes horrendos e que chocam quer a Academia, quer a...more
My Inner Shelf
J’ai eu du mal à choisir ma lecture après avoir lu Clara et la pénombre, j’ai donc fait simple en ne prenant pas de risque, et en lisant un autre Somoza. Cette fois il nous expédie à Athènes, où l’on croise un Hercule Poirot antique et Platon, rien de moins. Tout commence par la mort d’un éphèbe, et l’inquiétude de son mentor qui s’interroge sur les derniers jours de son jeune élève. Il fait appel aux services d’Héraclés Pontor (ahah !), Déchiffreur d’énigmes, un homme sympathique mais peu encli...more
Darcy Conroy
An interesting idea which the author, unfortunately, simply does not pull off. The internal logic is flawed, as is the logic of his (straw man) detective character. The author's presentation of philosophy and logic as well as Plato's theory of the forms (which he insists on calling 'the existence of Ideas") are simplistic, and will annoy anyone who has studied it in any depth, at least as much as the liberties his translator says he takes with the text will annoy real translators. But none of th...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in June 2003.

This novel seems to have been one of literature's recent success stories. It is basically a crime novel, an investigation into the death of a young student at Plato's Academy, initially thought to have been caused by a wolf attack but leaving grounds for suspicion of something more sinister. The Athenian Murders takes the form of a translation of an ancient manuscript telling the story, complete with copious footnotes by the translator, who is fa...more
Yves Fey
I had a weird experience with this book. Trying to be objective after an unpleasant experience with it, my opinion is that the author considers himself to be more clever than he actually is, and the book too pretentious. I loved The Name of the Rose. This doesn't come close to that, but is in the same "weird historical" subgenre. It's unusual and has some interesting stylistic flourishes. Fairly early, I began to find the book a bit irritating, but still very intriguing. The more that certain fa...more
Ein meisterhaftes Kastenteufelchen

„La caverna de las ideas“ ist bislang das einzige Buch, das ich von Somoza gelesen habe, und so war ich denn auch anfangs überrascht über die groteske Unbeholfenheit des Stils, die mich annehmen ließ, hier habe jemand in einer Fremdsprache geschrieben und sich dabei eines Übersetzungsprogramms aus dem Internet bedient. Eine kleine Kostprobe, gleich von der ersten Seite: „El frío erizaba la piel azul de la Noche, y el Bóreas hacía ondular la cabellera dorada de l...more
Héraclès Pontor est l'alter ego antique du détective Hercule Poirot. Cette profession portait à cette époque le nom bien plus poétique de "déchiffreur d'énigme". Un éphèbe est retrouvé mort, le corps couvert de profondes lacérations. Ses blessures donnent à penser qu'il a certainement été attaqué par des loups. Héraclès est sollicité pour examiner le cas, par un des plus fidèle disciple du grand Platon. Le détective et son employeur ont des idées diamétralement opposées et n'auront de cesse de s...more
This mystery tried so very hard to be clever, but honestly? More trying and less clever. It also brought to mind Sophie's World, with the supposed translator becoming a part of the book but perhaps more of a literary device than a real character.

Ostensibly this is an ancient Greek text about the murders of a few young boy/men in Athens, students at Plato's Academy yet also partaking of the arts (forbidden by the Academy) and Heracles is a "Decipherer of Enigmas" asked to find out what really ha...more
So I picked up this book by Jose Carlos Somoza the other day at the library on a spontaneous whim to smuggle some popular reading. It looked like an Arturo Perez Reverte-kind of thing -- the author had the same kind of sharp aquiline Latin good looks, and the premise of the story promised some form of clever-clever intertextual playing of form, with its hero Heracles Pontor trying to solve the mystery of some murders of young men from Plato's Academy.

It starts off decently enough, but I'm not qu...more
This is a really intriguing book. It is certainly not an easy read. It is told as two parallel yet connected stories. A modern day translator is working on the translation of a ancient Greek murder mystery text. Themain body of the book is the story of that mystery. The translator's notes are written in the book as footnotes to the translated mystery text. These footnotes contain the second story, namely what the translator is thinking and expereincing as he proceeds with his translation. Now me...more
May 07, 2011 Jim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: mystery
This is a very clever book. It kept me wondering about how many different levels on which the author was working. There are two story lines throughout, with a third hidden within the primary story. A sort of Russian nesting doll of a book or perhaps a better image is the reflection of a reflection, which leaves the reader questioning what the original looks like.

The primary story is a murder mystery set in Athens at the time of Plato. The main character Heracles is known as the “Decipherer of En...more
Raro de Concurso
A ver, el libro parece original, pero pensándolo luego, se parece más a un hipotético libro de Agatha Christie: "Hércules Poirot conoce la Atenas de Platón". "Investigador" que se topa con un crimen que no lo parece, que escarba y encuentra claroscuros en la versión oficial de la muerte, que sigue escarbando y se mete de lleno en una organización secreta mala malísima cuyo líder era amigo suyo, etc.
No sé, la historia me dejó algo indiferente, a veces me aburrió. Y éso que sobre la trama princip...more
Klara Sjo
One of those books I wanted to like, but didn't make it through (well, I speed-read passages here and there to get an idea of the plot).

Someone here named the (fictional) translator of the book as interruptor, and I concur with that. On top of that I got a used book, in which the former reader had underlined all the important words; so I was told everything that was important plot-wise twice, so the feeling of discovery, which I guess must be one of the interesting parts of reading this book, wa...more

Cuando leo a Somoza siempre me queda una sensación parecida a la de un futbolista al fallar un penalty: era dueño del momento y de pronto, la victoria se le escapa de las manos. Con este libro es igual. El desarrollo parece bueno, hasta que llegamos a la idea principal que se supone debe ser sorprendente y novedosa, pero termina siendo chocante, por culpa de la manía del escritor de forzar situaciones. Ese vicios a los giros "inesperados" (momentos absurdos, lugares comunes)llega a estropear la...more
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José Carlos Somoza is a Spanish author born in Havana, Cuba. In 1960 his family moved to Spain after being exiled for political reasons. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in psychiatry, but he gave up medicine in order to be a full-time writer in 1994.
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“Ah, a literatura!... - exclamou. - Meu amigo, ler não é pensar a sós: ler é dialogar! Porém o diálogo da leitura é um diálogo platónico: o teu interlocutor constitui uma ideia. Contudo não se trata de uma ideia imutável: ao dialogares com ela, modifica-la, torna-la tua, chegas a acreditar na sua existência autónoma...” 0 likes
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