WRATH OF THE FURIES: Roman detective Gordianus the Finder tries to go undercover amid angry Greeks bearing arms – #bookreview

 

Wrath of the Furies

A Novel of the Ancient World

Steven Saylor

Minotaur Books – hardback, Kindle

As a young student, I deliberately avoided the ancient world—all of those armless and headless statues, magnificent carved-stone structures collapsed into rubble, “wonders of the world,” and gods and goddesses who allegedly had both magical powers and human frailties.

Now that I am somewhat older (okay, a lot older), I have read several of the 15 novels in Steven Saylor’s popular Roma Sub Rosa series of historical mysteries. The series features a clever Roman investigator known as Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is a fictional character, but he encounters many of the ancient world’s real-life kings, queens, generals, political leaders and other figures while trying to solve murders and other crimes.

Thanks to Saylor’s expertise and irrepressible enthusiasm for ancient Roman and Greek times, I have found myself both enjoying his engaging fiction and pausing now and then to look up more about the people, places, things, and customs that Gordianus is encountering in each book. In other words, I am learning some eye-opening things about the ancient world and wishing I had gotten an earlier start.

In Saylor’s new novel, Wrath of the Furies, set in 88 B.C., Gordanius is a young man of just 22 and still somewhat subject to youth’s reckless belief in invincibility.  He receives a cryptic message, apparently a distress signal, from his former tutor and friend, Antipater, and decides to sneak into Greek-held territory to try to rescue him. Of course, this is at a dangerous moment. Greek forces led by the brutal King Mithridates are taking back Greek-speaking cities previously held by the Roman Empire. Some of Italy’s states also are revolting against Rome. So now is not a good time to be Roman detective snooping around amid angry Greeks bearing arms.

It is also not a good time for travelling with your slave (and lover), Bethesda, while trying to disguise yourself as a mute so your Roman-accented Greek won’t give you away. And it is an especially bad time to be going to the ancient Greek-speaking city of Ephesus (where King Mithridates now holds the home-court advantage), particularly when you don’t realize that sinister and powerful forces are drawing you in, and you must solve the mystery of Antipater’s message before it gets you and others killed.

Wrath of the Furies is a fine addition to Steven Saylor’s excellent Roma Sub Rosa ancient history-mystery series.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sun is God – Adrian McKinty takes readers well off the beaten path with this new historical mystery – #bookreview

 

The Sun is God

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – Kindle, paperback

Take a weird but true exotic setting. Throw in some real people and real murders. Add to the mix a fictional investigator: Will Prior, an ex-military police lieutenant who deliberately got himself cashiered from the British army during the Boer War following a deadly clash with African prisoners. Wrap it all up with a (very) surprising ending.

The Sun is God, Adrian McKinty’s new historical mystery, likely will please and amaze many readers. Trying to track down a murderer in a 1906 German nudist colony off the coast of New Guinea is a stunning and challenging departure from his Detective Sean Duffy trilogy set in the urban battles and enormous tensions of Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

McKinty is in fine form in this book as he offers up a complicated crime story set within a little-remembered slice of pre-World War I history: Part of New Guinea, north of Australia, was a German colony in the year 1906.

It is here that Will Prior is now living with his “servant girl,” Siwa, amid the colony’s failing banana, rubber and tea plantations.  While still willing to swear allegiance to the British Empire, Will now lives under German rule. So, when a German army officer, Captain Hauptmann Kessler, comes to his house one day, Will fears that it is to take back the money Germany previously loaned him to become a plantation owner. Instead, Will learns that the colony’s governor wants him, because of his past military police experience, to go with Captain Kessler to an island where some German nudists claim to have discovered the secret of immortality.

One of the immortals, unfortunately, has suddenly turned up quite dead. And while the nudists claim the victim died in his bed from malaria, an official autopsy in the capital of German New Guinea has revealed something quite different: the victim drowned and had bruise marks consistent with a struggle.

Things quickly get even more strange after Will and Kessler arrive and have to camp amid the nudists and share their dangerous diet while they attempt to find clues. There’s sex, yes, and drugs. (But the novel is set 50 years before Elvis Presley, so no rock ‘n’ roll.)  And, once danger erupts for the two investigators, they can’t call for backup, and they definitely can’t hide — not on a very small island that boats seldom visit, because it’s thought to be haunted.

Si Dunn