Thursday, January 13, 2011

David Wishart – Ovid

Yes, I know it's already 2011, so I should be reviewing “Bodies Politic” or, in the worst case, “The Horse Coin”, but I have to admit I just read the first novel by David Wishart last week. The good news (for me, of course) is that I started from the beginning with the adventures of Marcus Corvinus, that is, with “Ovid”.

In case there's somebody who hasn't heard of Wishart's series, there are now thirteen volumes out, with Marcus Corvinus as the Philip Marlowe of Rome during the times of Tiberius. Corvinus is actually such a splitting Marlowe image, that we'd have to wait for a new Bogart to be born, before we can hope to see an adaptation of this series on screen.

I'm not sure – yet – how the Corvinus series relates to the other whodunits set in ancient Rome which have flooded the shelves recently, I'd have to go through at least three more volumes for an accurate evaluation, but I'm very excited about how it started out. I guess it's because I was perfectly prepared to be disappointed after the first twenty pages or so, partly because the main line of the plot is very uncharacteristic to the Roman world (not telling you why – go read the book), and partly because of some vocabulary issues – some terms that seem adapted to the modern world in an awkward way. I was already expecting to see Corvinus going to the mall and ordering a martini, but I was wrong.
The book is actually very well documented; the author strays from the historical truth within limits that even an annoying and frustrated purist like myself deems acceptable in fiction. Plus, it's funny and the main character is as authentic as you might expect him to be. I had a quick look at other reviews, and some people seem to believe the language is too coarse for a historical fiction piece... which makes me believe those people have not read anything since the days of Livy. Or maybe they have both Ovid and Suetonius in censored editions. The jokes in Wishart's Ovid are actually more along the line of what topics to avoid when making small talk with Oedipus and what marketable skills one might pick up from Mercury. Funny in a geeky way.

The political mystery to be solved by the hero is not badly chosen, either, as the causes for Ovid's exile to Tomis are still unknown today. So I'd say Ovid himself would have approved of this book, despite the lack of proper hexameters. I, for one, am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.