- 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: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,139,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome Paperback – 4 Aug 2006
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you're a fan of Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O'Brian, or Conn Iggulden, and perhaps even Robert Graves, then you will love this tale of murder and mystery set in Ancient Rome after... Read morePublished on 28 May 2009 by Jack England
This is a gripping read and one I found difficult to put down. Dr Gabb starts his novel with a man reflecting on his life in a monastry in the north of England. Read morePublished on 29 Nov. 2006 by Ms. Rebecca Baty
Sean Gabb's achievement here is highly commendable. He brings the worlds of the past and present together in a believable and accessible tale rich in action and detail. Read morePublished on 23 Oct. 2006 by Professor J. Kersey