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August 25, 2023

History professor Marriott’s first work of fiction, The School of Homer, was praised by BookLife Reviews, which called it a “fast-paced mystery [that] doubles as bonus masterclass in Greek myth.” We spoke with Marriott about his love of mystery, the travels that inspired him, and where he hopes to take the series.

You’ve traveled widely, both as a child and as an adult. Was there any particular experience that inspired The School of Homer?

Oh, my first experience in Ithaca in 2018, surely. It is such a wonderful little island. Full of magic, myth, and fun. Of course, tourists know about that little Ionian island, like the rest of the Greek world, but once you’re out of Vathy harbor, you pretty much don’t run into too many people aside from at the other little seaside docking points. It’s pretty unusual to have the interior spots of a Greek island all to yourself in high season, but it’s really just you and whatever ideas and thoughts you bring with you. When I got back to the States, I knew I had to either return to Ithaca or write something about it. It was never far from my mind. I’m happy to say that I did both!

Where did the main character, retired Chicago homicide detective Virgil Colvin, come from?

I grew up in Chicago and, like Ithaca, the place left an indelible mark on me even though I left it at a pretty young age to live abroad with my family. When I was working on my characters, I knew I wanted my protagonist detective to come from that gritty urban world—it would be a nice counterpoint to the parochial, sparsely inhabited island. Plus, as a fellow Midwesterner, I could relate to some of Virgil’s idiosyncrasies.

What drew you to the mystery genre?

I’ve always been a fan of reading and watching mysteries, both on television and on the big screen. I love the breadth of the genre, the wide variety of detectives—tough as nails Mike Hammer to folksy genius Lieutenant Columbo—but I suppose it is the puzzle that draws me back over and over. I also like to go places and experience things with the stories. An exotic setting, an interesting case, good food and drink—I’m in!

Who is your ideal reader and why?

Well, I suppose that my ideal reader is anyone who likes to travel, who is reasonably well-read—the basics of the canon, if that exists anymore—and who likes a story with some substance. I like to think that the ideal reader of the novel will think about it afterward a bit and maybe even wonder about the answer to the historical question that the characters are pondering. Ultimately, the reader needs to be a curious person. Beyond that, hopefully I did a good enough job to bring them into the world I created.

The next two Virgil Colvin Mysteries, Murder with a Glass of Malvasia and Midway to Death, have titles, but no other information about them has been released. When can readers expect to be reunited with Virgil?

I think Murder with a Glass of Malvasia, which is also set in Greece, will be ready in 2024 and Midway to Death, which sees Virgil return to Chicago, in 2025. Writing novels is no easier or faster for me than writing historical essays; there is a lot of reading, research, travel, and so on involved to get things straight in my head and organized. My doctoral dissertation took about four years to research, write, edit, and defend. I hope, as I progress as a writer of fiction, that I get a little quicker. I make no promises there—I do have a day job and a baby girl to keep me busy!