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The Lydian Baker - Background to the Book

The Lydian Baker is the fourth Corvinus book, and a pure whodunnit rather than - like the earlier ones - a historical crime. I’d never written a whodunnit before, and it was rather like moving from solving a Times crossword - I’m a fanatical Times crossword doer - to making one up. With Ovid, Germanicus and Sejanus, the facts were all there already - like the answers in a crossword grid - and it was a question of solving the cryptic clues to produce them; with The Lydian Baker I was starting with a completely blank grid and having to produce the whole puzzle - including the clues - from scratch. That was fun.

Not that it’s manufactured completely from whole cloth. Even when I’m writing a whodunnit I like to have a factual ‘hook’ to hang the story on, and in this case it was the Baker itself: a five-foot high solid gold statue gifted to the Delphic Oracle by King Croesus of Lydia in the 6th century BC. That interested me: it had been mentioned by Herodotus in the following century but by the time of Pausanias (second century AD) it had disappeared. Also, there were links with another story (passed on to me by Professor Christopher Smith of St Andrews University) about booty plundered from a shrine in Gaul by the then (1st century BC) Roman governor, who had been successfully prosecuted on his return to Rome and had gone into exile. It was thought at the time that, like most governors on the make, he’d smuggled the loot to a safe haven; only the governor seems to have died in poverty. So what had happened to the gold, and specifically to the statue which may have formed part of it? That question provided the hook for the story.

A word about the book jacket, which isn’t, unlike those of the earlier books, based on a mosaic. Book jackets - and the descriptive blurb on them - are purely the business of the publisher, although if he’s lucky - I am, very - the writer will be consulted well before the book’s actually printed (but sometimes still too late: see the background bit for Old Bones). Hodder wanted this cover to be more appropriate to a crime book than a historical; hence the change. They also asked me what I’d like as far as the subject-matter went, and I said the statue (details given), a crowbar and a pool of blood. Which is what you’ve got.

Previous book jackets. Apart from Sejanus, where the first version gave too much of the plot away and I asked for - and was given; whee! - a complete change of artwork, any changes I’ve suggested have been the nit-picking, factual ones of the classics anorak: with I, Virgil a book-roll in Virgil’s lap rather than a folding book (‘That’s a codex, not a volumen!’); Ovid, the lad-about-town’s short beard with no moustache; and Germanicus, the standards on each side instead of a spear in the general’s hand (‘Only ordinary soldiers carried the pilum. Germanicus is a general.’) Pernickety, yes, but if I were a reader cover mistakes would jar and I’d - at least subconsciously - blame them on the author.

Hodder have been very patient.

One last thing. I usually - by the time I actually begin writing a book - have a good idea of who the villain is. With The Lydian Baker I discovered, thirty or so pages from the end, that I was wrong and it was someone completely different. The interesting thing was that, when I looked back to check out the plot for resulting glitches, there weren’t any. The subconscious mind is a strange animal.

I hope, if you do read the book, that you enjoy it.

David Wishart (May 2006)

read the 1st chapter

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