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The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome Paperback – 4 Aug 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Hampden Press (4 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0954103246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954103248
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,459,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sean Gabb is the author of 20 books and about 300 essays. Under the name Richard Blake, he has written six historical novels for Hodder & Stoughton. These have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Greek, Slovak, Hungarian, Chinese and Indonesian. Under his own name, he has written four novels. His other books are mainly about libertarian politics. He broadcasts regularly in the British media. He lives in Kent with his wife and daughter.

Product Description

Synopsis

Rome in 609 AD. The empire has fallen. The city itself is rapidly falling into ruins. The streets are blocked with filth and rubble. Killers prowl by night. The barbarians outside await their moment. The Emperor, far off in Constantinople, has other concerns. The church is the one institution left intact, and is now flexing its own imperial muscles. Little did Aelric know, back in Canterbury, how getting someone's daughter with child would land him in this post-imperial snake pit. But "If I catch you in my realms" King Ethelbert had snarled at him, "I'll have your balls on a church plate, and fuck the priests." So off to Rome he must go - as secretary to Maximin, a priest sent back to gather books for the English mission. A chance encounter on the road outside Rome leads to a daring fraud. Its consequences follow them to Rome. They are followed. There is murder after murder. Soon, Aelric is involved in a race against time to find answers. Who is trying to kill him? Where are those letters and what do they contain? Who is the one-eyed man? What significance to all this has the Column of Phocas, the monument just put up in the Forum to celebrate a tyrant's generosity to Holy Mother Church? Proceeding via lechery, drunkenness, blasphemy, drug abuse, market rigging and pedantry, Aelric at last gets his answer. What he chooses to do with that answer will shape the future history of Europe and the world ...This novel blends historical detail with mystery, dark humour, and reflections on the decay of learning. Warning: it contains strong language, descriptions of extreme violence, and some sex, both straight and gay. Though conforming to the genre rules of historical detective fiction, it manages much else besides. A sequel is already in progress.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Philip Inman on 3 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
Those who are already familiar with Sean Gabb's writings in the field of political polemic will recognise his racy, highly readable style, but in this book not only he has surpassed himself, he has demonstrated once again that more truth can be conveyed in a work of fiction than in an attempt at scholarly abstraction. The Column of Phocas is indeed a page turner. It is a difficult call to decide how to write colloquial and often vulgar dialogue for a time in the distant past. Gabb settled for a sort of 21st Century mid-Atlantic demotic, which is fine, once you have got to used to it. It means that the book will date quickly. I am not suggesting he should have written in the style of a prep school Latin master; I just wondered whether, with his knowledge of the Classics, Gabb could not have tried to translate a few contemporary oaths, not of the "Ye Gods" or "By Jove" variety, but more to do with bodily parts and functions. The only other mild quibble is that the proof reading could have been a bit tighter: in one or two crucial sentences the main verb is missing. The meaning was clear enough, but it broke the tension. All that said, Gabb succeeds in conveying vividly the squalor, decadence and bustle of the defeated regime of the Western Empire: maybe he had in mind a prophecy for the current generation. I learnt a few things about papyrus-making, book-copying and the working of the Roman monetary system. The second edition, which cannot be too long in coming, could usefully include a fold-out map of early mediaeval Rome, so we can follow the comings and goings of the main characters.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James Oliver on 25 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
Remember all the naughty stuff they didn't tell you about Roman times when you studied Latin and ancient history? Well, there's plenty of it here in this highly entertaining yet informative thriller. Don't let the rather subdued cover put you off, this is a truly page-turning intrigue with the attendant sex and violence graphically portrayed. The author also finds time to explore themes of honour and duty alongside the dark comedy and plot twists.

Though written over two centuries later, The Column of Phocas - though fiction - serves as a perfect companion to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for any discerning bookshelf. Some of the verbal anachronisms (eg cockney rhyming slang like "Let’s have a butchers at what he’s still got under there" early on) might confuse Americans but use of the modern vernacular ultimately serves to make the book accessible.

I, for one, haven't enjoyed historical fiction this much since The Name of the Rose and eagerly look forward to the sequel.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Carr on 24 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
Too often historical novels are replete with technical accuracy but fail to breathe any sort of life into the characters, presenting them instead as one-dimensional meat puppets with hilariously stilted lines. Sean Gabb gets top marks for avoiding this pitfall and writing a novel that is not only fascinating in its historical detail but is also populated by real people with inner and outer lives that are at least as complicated as our own. At the risk of sounding a little cliched, he really does bring the past to life and weaves into it a gripping story. I cannot remember the last time a novel so thoroughly engaged me. When can we expect the sequel?
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. WITCOMBE-SMALL on 16 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
First the bad news. This book is either self-published or published by a very minor publishing house indeed, so the production and layout are not appealing, and typos are abundant.

Now for the good news. This is a very good first novel by someone more known as an academic and a commentator on economic and social issues. It is set in a period not generally used as the setting for novels, largely on the grounds of public ignorance and lack of interest - the era of the post-Constantinian church and the decay of Rome, so it makes a change from the thrillers with a religious dimension set on either side of that era in Roman arenas or the desert of the Middle East with Crusaders and Saracens fighting it out.

The narrator and hero (with whom I suspect we should identify the author) is a vigorous young Kentishman of sexually ambidextrous abilities who finds himself (under circumstances less agreeable than he would have preferred) sent from the squalor of Kent to the decayed splendour of Rome, accompanying a priest on a mission to collect books for the nascent English church. As the journey progresses, he finds himself thrust into a maelstrom of religious and political intrigue, which justifies a certain amount of rather well-handled violence and creative bad language. He also manages to enjoy a certain amount of sex and make a lot of money. Those familiar with the author's other writings will enjoy the (necessary) disquisitions on the money system, banking, stock exchanges, the merits and demerits of various social systems, and the existence or non-existence, power or impotence of deities. The mysteries with which the narrator is obliged to deal are rounded off by some very ingenious twists.

I am delighted to note that a sequel is in preparation.
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