on 28 January 2014
The book was a gentle but well thought out criminal mystery. I read this and another book by the same author and enjoyed the easy relaxed reading with pleasure. One the character of the judge has been established, like any other detective novel, it can go on and on. Reminds me a bit of Cadfile (apologise for spelling) also placed in the same era. I will purchase more books by this author regarding the main character.
I gave this book a 5 star simply due to the pleasure I had in reading it and the need to find out what happened in the end .
I bought this and the author's previous book in one purchase and while I enjoyed them they were ultimately a bit thin, not just in the sense of rather fewer words on a page than one would expect (though that too) but they lacked the world building which is one of the great pleasures of reading. In the last analysis I really am not too bothered about the crime and its solving, the whodunnit is just a peg to hang the story on and it's the characters and the back story that make one come back to an author's world time and again. And I don't want bags of explanation about the ins and outs of that world's functioning. That should be made evident as the plot works itself out of for a reader new to a milieu or let them tootle off and look the facts up for themselves. Too much elucidation of background is a killer - the world of the book exists and you have to find your way in it. Reading the first volume was a bit like being back in junior school only unfortunately teacher hadn't been there to correct the typos etc.
And I suspect that this is going to be more noticable now that authors are able to publish direct without the input of a publishing house to guide them on the early steps to reaching the audience. Though, heaven knows, even books put out by reputable publishing houses are marred far too often by bad or non-existent proof reading these days. I've just re-read a couple of Pauline Gedge's and the joy of a properly edited and proof-read text is an experience one had almost forgotten.
So I may well read some more of this series but I want a meatier text in future please. More words between the covers and more of the life of the time and the characters.
on 3 March 2014
I am pleased to say this second effort of Scribner's is better than his first. I rather enjoyed the mystery here, not "guessing/deducing" the culprit before the denouement at Judge Severus' final gathering in Baiae.
The story concerns the murder in Rome's seaside resort of two people. A curiosi (read "Secret Service") named Publius Bassianus and General Gnaeus Avidianus Nepos (cognomen Cyclops) have wound up dead. One from a clonk on the head, the other with a dagger through his remaining eye. Public hysteria means there is a fear that a serial killer by the sobriquet of 'Odysseus' is murdering people using methods described in Homer's 'The Odyssey.' He may be on dubious jurisdiction, but Severus has been ordered to investigate and an anxious Town Council is keen to wrap up the case before tourism takes a mighty hit. It's not quite so easy as a trip to the Blue Oyster Bar to work matters out and by the end of the book two more are dead....the culprit is a busy person - involved in a court martial in Judea, a counterfeiting ring in Antioch and the series of murderous events in Baiae over the course of the month and four days that the novel spans.
Scriber keeps his assortment of characters from the first novel. Vulso gets more of a look in as the hard-hitting ex-Centurion. Straton is less evident. There's a few newbies: Proculus, Flaccus and Eclectus. All of them are needed to puzzle out the lies and misdeeds of Galba, Galliancus, Carbo, Herminius, Ambibulus, Meherdates et al. who are all prepared to inveigle their way out of the relentless Stoic pursuance of the suave Severus.
I'll pick up on a few "errors." Examples include:
Historical - Scribner has his hero muse: "Then Persia, as we call that country, or Iran as they Persians, call it." The term Iran was coined in Persia under the rule of Ardashir the Unifier who ruled from 206A.D. Given the events of the book are in 161A.D. there is no way Severus would have known this.
Typos - "the Flaccus, prodding." "it's" (for "its")
Modern parlance - "smog", "blurbs", "didactically, "police", "lucre", "hotel", "vagabond", "shacks", "nymphomaniac", "booty", "international character", "safe-deposit repositories", "I want the sauce on the side", "the Milky Way", "homicide" There's a bit too much of this being used by the characters. Their language needs more realism.
There's also the humorous description "a crashing orgasm". Never heard it described like that before, but Scribner professes to know second century Rome, so I'll have to accept it, I guess.
The novel allows Scriber to delve into his favourite pastime of educating the reader, though he's cut back on it somewhat from the first novel, thankfully. The passages on Homer are necessary for the plot, the lengthy didactic on frumentarii is unnecessary given the curiosi have a tiny part in the book. I've come to expect Severus soliloquies/monologues on philosophies and the small details regarding Eastern cults is also integral to the plot (or at least to one blind alley.)
In conclusion, the pace of this is better than the previous effort; Severus is still a stuffy, boring lead sleuth, but his associates more than make up for his shortcomings. The mystery is confusing enough to hold our attention throughout; the action, right from the first beach to the digging in the villas at the end, is bright and believable.
Not bad at all. I will definitely look for the next one.
on 21 January 2014
Plodding, lead weighted dialogue--does anyone, even U.S. lawyers speak like this? An interesting, again less frequently explored part of history fiction which is adequately portrayed. there is no real drama and Scribner copes poorly with a legal system which worked in its own terms but makes little sense quite often today.