Harper, Oct 2009, $141.99
In Metamorphosis, Greece in 2004 former Oxford student Ben Mercer feels his life is over as his marriage is dead and he works at a dead end meat grill restaurant with no future beyond serving diners since his Ancient Sparta thesis is dead just not interred yet. He admires the courage of the visiting five archeologists who fearlessly dig for what they want while he mopes and serves food. One of his heroes who he knew in England, Oxford Professor Eberhard Saurer tells Ben he is going on an excavation in Laconia where they hope to uncover Spartan ruins; when Ben pleads to join him, Eberhard just leaves.
Unable to resist, Ben follows Eberhard to Laconia called Lacedaemonia by the ancient Spartans who left little behind except mystery as to how so few controlled so many “Helot” slaves. Eberhard and his colleagues (Jason, Natsuko, Eleshchen and Max) perform one of the ancient Spartan rituals of the death hunt while emitting a superiority cockiness that Ben admires and would like to emulate if he was not so afraid. He soon learns of the Crypteia Hidden Ones’ fanaticism killing the helots like hunters stalking game and fears he may be the modern day game of the predatory fearsome five.
This is an exciting thriller that looks deeply into the amoral behavior of terrorists using an ethical cloak to defend their murderous beliefs. By bringing Sparta into focus in terms of terrorizing their neighbors through mechanisms like the Hidden hunt of the Helot and comparing this group to modern times using the five archeologists, Tobias Hill provides a profound look at a predator’s mindset, in the past and present. Although the flashbacks into Ben’s past enhance understanding of him, that track distracts from the bigger theme of how a stalker rationalizes in secret to him or her self the kill of the innocent.