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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 July 2013
Roman Games by Bruce Macbain was one of the historical fiction surprises of last year, its reluctant detective Pliny the Younger an unusual and pleasing hero, his Roman world well realised, corrupt, striving to be better than it is. I have been looking forward to The Bull Slayer ever since.

Rather intriguingly, The Bull Slayer is set a full 14 years after the close of Roman Games. Domitian is now dead (to big sighs of relief, no doubt) and the more conventional, if pinickity Trajan is emperor. Pliny is an established figure in government, newly Governor of the institutionally-challenged and not entirely content province of Bithynia; his child-bride Calpurnia is 28 and Bithynia's first lady, entertaining the wives of her husband's officials with stately dinners, improving herself with Greek lessons from Timotheus, a pedagogue intent on edifying his pupil with Homeric epic. Unfortunately, when Balbus, the second highest ranking Roman official in Bithynia and the man in charge of finances, disappears it's up to Pliny to investigate what has happened to him and who might benefit from his possible death. Last time, Pliny had Martial helping him. This time he has the equally famous, and salacious, author Suetonius by his side.

This is a province that spans three worlds - Rome, Greece and Persia. While it endures Roman bureaucracy, parts of it exalt and remember, falsely, its Greek past while others welcome mysterious Persian religions, in particular the cult of Mithras. It's into this unhealthy mix of corruption, pride, venality and superstition that Pliny finds himself and his case. The more he uncovers, the more is hidden. His frustration at dealing with local officials with all their secret agendas is palpable. The earthquakes that shake the ground under his feet don't help.

But what makes The Bull Slayer stand out is not so much the mystery, intriguing as that undoubtedly is, but what is going on at home. Pliny's wife Calpurnia is a fascinating, deeply sympathetic figure. Here is a young woman, married as a child to a much older (though young himself) man with whom she dutifully falls in love but now, 14 years later, she must deal with a stillborn birth, life in a foreign land with a status that leaves her especially alienated, and a husband who is often distant. He is never less than kind or patronising but this is more subtle a portrait than that. She loves art, she wants to learn, she wants to be able to discuss matters with her learned husband, but she also wants to be loved. Calpurnia is no flighty girl. She is strong but she is also very human. Bruce Macbain is to be congratulated on his portrait of Calpurnia, he really is.

The Bull Slayer also raises the question of slavery in a very special way, as the issue affects Pliny and Calpurnia and, in return, their male and female slaves. The novel has much to intrigue with its evocation of mysterious eastern religions, political corruption, Roman supremacy and Greek servitude, but it's in its treatment of this young woman, Calpurnia, and the relationship between master and slave that The Bull Slayer stands out. And it really stands out.

As with Roman Games, my only issue with The Bull Slayer is its length. Again, the novel is much too short at about 260 pages (resulting in 4 not 5 stars). I read it in just one day. I would have liked to have spent much more time in the company of Pliny and his fascinating wife Calpurnia. I hope we get more. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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I loved the original title in this series (Roman Games) and was more than looking forward to seeing what life would hold in store for future outings of the enigmatic figure of Pliny the Younger. After all, in the first book, he was swept along by events that spiralled out of control that demonstrated that even when you're a lead character, fate can have a way of leading you a merry dance.

So I was pretty much expecting more of the same in this second novel. I wasn't disappointed and to be honest the character becomes even more interesting in this outing especially when you get to see a stronger side to his wife Calpuria who undergoes not only terrible events herself but shows a strong determination above others to help make things work. Add to this the deliciousness of the wonderfully Seutonius, all round made this a cracking story to sit back with. All round a great novel and one that I thoroughly enjoyed even if it was a little short, but as the saying goes, its always best to leave them wanting more. Cracking.
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on 1 February 2014
A fascinating blend of verifiable Roman history interwoven with a strong detective story. Macbain uses several well known characters from history e.g Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius. He speculates on the cult of Mithras and blends corruption, superstition and lust. The novel's strength is the vivid portrait of life and politics in Bithynia astride Greece, Persia and Rome. I enjoyed all the superstition around the snake oracle and the gullibility of the people. I was less happy with the portrayal of Calpurnia and her young lover which did not ring true at all however the earthquake and all the action scenes were excellent!
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on 27 August 2014
Well written and well researched with a pleasant enough mystery to keep you entertained and an ending to make you want more. The title is explained in the plot but the cover leads you to believe this is another sword and sandal epic but it certainly is not, it is better than that.
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on 17 January 2014
I chose this as a follow on from my interest in historical fiction- particularly Roman History. The author gives an interesting and different twist on life in the empire, and this was intriguing and appeared historically valid. the story ran out of steam a bit, but nevertheless there is enough here to give credit for good value.
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This is the second mystery featuring Pliny the Younger written by Bruce MacBain (the first was Roman Games). This second book is set some fourteen years later, and Pliny has been appointed Governor of the Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus, where previous Governors have been found to be dabbling in making more profit for themselves than for the Empire. The Emperor Trajan has faith in Pliny's ability to set the province straight and to keep the peace in a volatile region. Pliny soon finds himself mixed up in religion and politics, but also finds peace eluding him in his own household.

These books are really great; atmospheric, historically very pleasing, and the characters are well drawn and well portrayed. It's great to see Pliny, who comes to us as an historic character who was a very upright moral and ethical man, in these stories in all his `human-ness'. Great stuff; totally recommended.
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on 1 March 2014
it took a bit to get going. Maybe because i was reading it as the second in the series the first 50 or so pages setting up the story were slightly hard work FOR ME. Not actually the books fault and probably not noticeable if reading as a stand alone book.
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on 16 February 2014
I found it slow to begin with ,but then really found it engrossing working out who was the bull slayer..l will look forward to another book by this author.
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on 4 November 2013
A great second book featuring pliny the investigator,this time as governor in modern day Turkey,loved it highly recommended,and can't wait for the next one.
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on 13 January 2014
It was not bad to read, but it followed too much in the story lines of other authors.It needed more twists and turns to the story line.It was Ok
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