The Shape Of Water – Andrea Camilleri (2003) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Although I’ve watched every episode of both “Inspector Montalbano” and “Young Montalbano” shown over here on BBC4 I’ve never read any of the books on which they are based.  This is the first in the sequence published in the UK in 2003.  Those of you who want to be strictly chronological may wish to start with Camilleri’s 2013 collection “Montalbano’s First Case & Other Stories” but I’m going with the order by publication date.

So far Camilleri has produced twenty of these Italian bestsellers up to 2016’s “A Voice In The Night”with the next two scheduled (“A Nest Of Vipers” is due to be published in August 2017) so I have a fair bit of catching up to do.  I did find myself remembering the TV adaptation quite well as I was reading this (I’m usually a bit of a stickler for reading the book first) and I couldn’t get Luca Zingaretti’s portrayal of the Inspector out of my head.

Plotwise, a local notable is found dead in his car at a known cruising ground, partially clad and having recently had a good time.  It’s believed to be a fairly scandalous natural causes heart attack but Montalbano thinks differently.  On the same site a valuable necklace is found by two waste disposal men and there is obviously some link between the jewellery and the dead man.  Despite some rather tortuous long sentences at the beginning of the novel this settles into a quick and relatively easy read.  The glory of Sicily does not come across, obviously, as well as it does on the television but here, in this translation by, Stephen Saratelli you don’t need to read the subtitles.  Once you’re drawn into the Italian way of complex local political manoeuvrings and a different kind of logic and Camilleri writing more than you’d expect with tongue firmly in cheek this provides a very satisfactory introduction to these quirky crime capers.  At times I could feel the influence of prolific French author Georges Simenon (Camilleri worked on a TV production of “Maigret” before embarking on his writing career) and that’s certainly no bad thing.

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The Shape Of Water was published by Picador in 2003

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (2013) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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A lot of people read this novel on publication assuming Galbraith was a debut novelist and word of mouth about this exciting new talent grew, ensuring it sold well.  Then, it was revealed that Galbraith was none other than JK Rowling dipping a toe into the murky waters of adult crime fiction and sales exploded.  With hindsight, there is in its focus on the relationship between characters and its awareness of popular culture and celebrity enough to suggest a female author at work, but then the main character is so well drawn with an awareness of the foibles and shortcomings of the male species that it feels like he must have been created by another man, so the subterfuge was convincing.

Cormoran Strike is certainly a larger than life character whose vitality is central to the success of this novel.  He is the result of a rock star’s fling with a supergroupie.  Following army service in Afghanistan, where he lost a leg he has given up his military career and become a fairly unsuccessful private detective.  He’s physically large, known to his acquaintances by a range of nicknames, is failing in a relationship with a woman better looking than he thinks appropriate and is struggling to cope with the ramifications of that relationship’s demise.  Into this comes a temporary secretary, Robin, and a case concerning the death of a model which just might enable Strike to make his mark.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is a rich, highly entertaining novel which given its crime tag has more than its fair share of humour and warmth.  The relationship between Cormoran and Robin, the employer whose life is in tatters and the employee who steadfastly attempts to ignore her boss’ shortcomings whilst finding herself drawn into his investigation is very strong and demands further adventures.  The case is well-thought out and keeps the reader guessing.  Rowling has spent many years now in the privileged realm of the multi-millionaire world renowned author yet her down at heel detective and the world he inhabits feels plausible and very real.  True, there is a lot of wealth in the case with paparazzi, fashion designers and the super-rich all playing their part but throughout I was rooting for the so likeable but so often unappealing Cormoran Strike.

fourstars

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling was published by Sphere in 2013

Ritual – Mo Hayder (2008) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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I thought I’d explore my complex relationship with Mo Hayder, an author who perplexes me just a little.  This is the 5th of her books I have read and it’s not always plain sailing.  I loved “Tokyo” her stand-alone novel (wasn’t so wild about the too dark “Pig Island”) and I have had reservations about the two DI Jack Caffery novels I’ve read (“Birdman” and “The Treatment”) but there’s something about Mo (“Tokyo” being the case in point) that keeps driving me back to her.

My gripe about her work is that it can all be a little too full-on, all darkness and no light and this is perpetuated by the character of Caffery- a Detective Inspector obsessed with the disappearance of his brother during their childhood.  It’s left him brooding, unpleasant and with tendencies towards inappropriate violence, who basically offers no light relief to the reader.  I was fascinated to read in an Afterword to this novel that the author herself shared some of my views and was determined to leave him to stew in his own misery after two novels.  She was aiming to do something different with this but found him worming his way back in.  This has resulted in the best of her Caffery novels to this point.

This has been achieved by a change of location to Bristol, taking him away from the scenes of his turbulent past and by getting him to share the limelight with another character, Sergeant Phoebe “Flea” Marley – a police diver.  Now Flea is not exactly a bundle of laughs either.  Her devotion to her duties is fueled by guilt following the death of both of her parents in a diving accident but somehow putting these two troubled souls together lightens the intensity to make for a more entertaining read.

The case begins when a human hand is discovered in Bristol harbour.  There are implications of muti, a regional tribal South African form of witchcraft which can involve human blood and body parts.  If this sounds grim, believe me, it’s nothing compared to the cases in Hayder’s previous Caffery novels.

The whole thing is well-paced with good twists and turns and tightly plotted, creating real tension.  A sub-plot sees Caffery connecting with “The Walking Man”, another damaged soul whose guilt saw him taking matters into his own hands and who now lives rough.  It was this connection, Hayder says, which caused her to relent and see a place for the DI in this novel and thus brought him back.  For me, this is actually the least successful aspect of “Ritual” but in bringing him back she has upped the readability of this series and I’m looking forward to reading the next one, despite its spine-chilling title “Skin”.  Hayder does still have the ability to scare me witless but in this has made that ability a little more entertaining and palatable.  Some of her previous books have left me with an unpleasant grubby feeling but I didn’t experience that with this.  The series is here redeemed.

fourstars

Ritual was published by Bantam in 2008

Blackwater – James Henry (Riverrun 2016)- A Murder They Wrote Review

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Reading this first in a projected series of police procedural thrillers featuring DI Nick Lowry I kept thinking about what makes a distinctive British crime series.  A lot is to do with location (Dexter’s Oxford, James’ Brighton, Rankin’s Edinburgh immediately springing to mind).  I was interested by Henry’s Colchester, its garrison town status gives it an added dimension which will pitch army against police and the location itself (with which I am not familiar) with its nearby coastal flats and Mersea Island has much dramatic potential.

Secondly, we need an involving set of regular characters.  Sometimes this can take a book or two to get established so I’m not that worried that I feel I don’t have the measure yet of DI Lowry nor his team nor superiors.  The “crime” itself is obviously an essential.  Does it involve the reader throughout?  On this occasion, I’m not totally sure it does.  In the first week of 1983 a soldier falls to his death after being chased, a headless corpse turns up on a causeway and a drugs run goes wrong.  How far these are connected to one another are up to Lowry and his team to work out.

Finally, a little something special is needed, that unique twist to make the series stand out.  By setting it in the 80’s Henry recreates a world of phone boxes rather than text messages and of police officers more interested in arranging boxing and football tournaments than anything else.  And oh yes, the sexism, this is reminiscent of “Ashes To Ashes’” Gene Hunt (a name that may very well be mentioned regularly in reviews of this book).  Consider the Chief Superintendant’s words;

“ The police force is a man’s arena, and as such any woman prepared to play in this world has to be prepared to take a few punches, much like inside the ring….Figuratively of course- we can’t go knocking them around, that would be wrong….But ordinarily, the odd grope, an arse squeeze on a night out, is acceptable.”

Henry’s world of crime solvers is a macho  and often disinterested one but there’s an awareness that times need to change and this is conveyed well.  A woman is in charge of these boors (albeit a fur coat clad one) and her WPC niece is keen to make an impression and you get the feeling that this is where the mileage is for this series.

The author has previously written three well-received prequels to RD Wingfield’s “Frost” novels  but this has more grit and the lingering air of Old Spice about it.  He has created a series which has the potential to do well.

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Blackwater was published in July 2016 by Riverrun (a Quercus imprint)

Dead Like You – Peter James (Macmillan 2010)- A Murder They Wrote Review

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Okay, so I know I’m six years behind with the Roy Grace series but I enjoy James’ Brighton-set police procedurals so much that I ration them.  I realised that I did not read one at all last year (I had read two the previous year) so had to put that right.

This is book number six in the series where it is imperative to keep a list because of the similarity of the titles and look of the books.  I think things started off so strongly with “Dead Simple” and there was a slight fall in standard for the next couple but “Dead Man’s Footsteps” and especially “Dead Tomorrow” saw James upping his game once again to produce modern crime classics.  This one makes it three very good books in a row, suggesting that this is one of the most consistent of crime series.

For those of you who have already read it and are trying to recall which one it is from the never-that-helpful titles it’s the one about the shoes.  Now I know you remember.

We have two time frames- an abduction on Christmas Eve 1997 of Rachel Ryan, tipsily tottering home on high heels.  Her disappearance has remained amongst Brighton’s unsolved cold cases until a woman is assaulted after a New Year’s Eve party at the Metropole Hotel twelve years later.  It becomes clear that “The Shoe Man” has returned to terrorise Brighton.  A shoe fetishist who preys on women wearing new designer shoes leads DS Grace to dredge up the old case in search of clues.  I’m not sure whether I get so involved because I used to live in Grace’s stomping ground.  My visual impression is always strong reading these but I think this also has a fair bit to do with James’ talent for setting the scene.

Short chapters, tense writing and quite a few set pieces which are absolutely gripping.  It does at times make for very uncomfortable reading but the pace forces you on.  I think this is where the series is getting stronger as a couple of the earlier novels had noticeable fluctuations in pace but this kept me involved the whole way through.  I want to move straight on to “Dead Man’s Grip” but the pile of review books awaiting my attention means I will have to wait.

fourstars

Dead Like You was published by Macmillan in 2010.

A Murder On The Appian Way – Steven Saylor (1997) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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This is the seventh book in the Roma Sub Rosa series (for my reviews of the previous two see here).   Unfortunately, this is the weakest in the series.  It took me until I got to the Author’s Historical Note at the back of the book to appreciate just how much of this story was based upon fact.  Saylor takes as his inspiration a real-life murder, defended by Cicero and seen as one of the factors which led to the Civil War which breaks down the Roman Empire.

The novel is set in 52BC.  Main character Gordanius The Finder is now in his late fifties.  The whole thing kicks off with a riot after Clodius (who we met in “The Venus Throw”) is murdered apparently by his arch-enemy Titus Milo.  Gordanius is asked to find out what happened and alongside son Eco and new slave Davus they go to the scene of the crime, the Appian Way, to question potential witnesses.  There’s a lot of political intrigue amongst Clodius’ followers, Milo, Pompey and Cicero and as a result this novel feels a little stodgy compared to its predecessors and the investigations upon the Appian Way become somewhat dull.

All is not lost, however, as the novel does pick up considerably in the last third with the trial and its after-effects and the characters I have enjoyed reading about so much in the past regain their vivacity.  Perhaps there is just a little too much fact in this novel when a bit more fiction might have spiced things up a little.  There are some new characters who look like they might have significant parts to play in later novels and all this suggests that the slight dip in quality for this instalment might just be a little blip.

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A Murder On The Appian Way was published in the UK by Robinson in 2005.  There have been a number of re-issue editions with different covers.

 

The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury 2016) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Subtitled “The Mystery of A Victorian Child Murderer” this is the first Kate Summerscale I have read since “Suspicions of Mr Whicher”.  I really enjoyed her examination of detective work in its infancy.  In that book the author took a case from 1860 and provided us with a leisurely trawl through the facts and all the relevant documents.  It was well-detailed and thoroughly researched and very readable.  Her latest book is just as good.

I began this book with no idea as to what was to happen.  It is 1895 and thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his twelve year old brother Nattie seem to be having a whale of a time- changing coins of large value, going off to Lords to see the cricket and going to the theatre.  These boys have a secret and a plan.  They tell neighbours that their mother is away and get a naive adult male friend of their fathers’s to come and stay with them.  The revelation of their secret is as much a shock to him as it is to the local Plaistow residents.

All three are initially arrested for the crime and its aftermath and the trial makes fascinating reading.  The press latch onto Robert’s treasured collection of “penny dreadful” comics and the simmering debate as to what is suitable material for children to read explodes.  I found this theme one of the most absorbing features of Summerscale’s analysis.

The book becomes a study of “suitable” punishment for a child.  Although it looks like the jury advocated clemency it actually made the punishment initially seem more severe but this is also a story of retribution and it is far from over at the end of the trial.

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Sketch of the Coombes brothers on trial

The adult lives of those who committed terrible crimes in childhood does hold a morbid fascination for me and in researching this Summerscale stumbled upon information which led her story into a completely different direction taking her to  some of the most notorious battlefields of the First World War.

The motive for Robert’s crime was never clear but so much else has been found out about him.  It is a sobering, grisly but ultimately quite life-enhancing tale.  I’m aware that by jumping to this book I’ve missed out a couple of Summerscale works, (“The Queen Of Whale Cay” and “Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace”) and normally I’m a great one for reading books in publication order but I was drawn to the author returning to murder and just couldn’t wait to read this.  I think she is excellent at bringing old crimes alive and at making her accounts of cases both highly readable and relevant to today.

fourstars

The Wicked Boy was published in April 2016 by Bloomsbury.    Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

The Author Strikes Back – Vaughn Entwistle

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I was very pleased to be contacted recently by Vaughn Entwistle whose novel “The Angel Of Highgate” I found so entertaining.  Vaughn left a comment on my review (always a little nerve-wracking when an author does this).  I contacted him to thank him for his kind words and was thrilled that he has agreed to answer questions about his book.  I am also delighted that he dressed up for the occasion.    So without further ado…………….

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What is it about Highgate Cemetery that made you choose it as a central location for your novel?

The inspiration for the novel came many, many years ago when I was a  graduate student. I was wandering the stacks of the university library when I happened to pick up a book entitled: Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla, by Felix Barker.

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There wasn’t much text: just a brief introduction to the history of Highgate Cemetery and a few simple maps of the grounds. But what made the book so compelling were the atmospheric black and white photographs taken by John Gay, a professional photographer. The book was published in 1988 and many of the photographs were taken around that time. They show a Highgate in full surrender to nature with its tombs and statuary (many since lost to erosion or attacks by vandals) wreathed in vines and slowly submerging beneath foliage. At this time, West Highgate had long gone out of business as a cemetery and was derelict and overgrown.  A volunteer society: The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, have since taken it over and are working to restore the cemetery, which now also serves as a wildlife sanctuary and is home to many species of birds, as well as foxes, badgers, and the occasional wallaby. (Yes, really!)

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Highgate Cemetery

As I pored over the book, I was immediately struck by the sheer gravitas of the place:  gothic, mysterious, and suffused in entropic decay. Here’s a few words you may or may not be familiar with: tapophile (one who loves graves, cemeteries and funerals) and coimetromania (an abnormal compulsion to visit cemeteries). Both words aptly describe me. I grew up in northern England watching Hammer films and loved all things spooky and eldritch. At any rate, the book affected me deeply and I immediately recognized that Highgate would make a magnificent setting for a novel. After university I went on to have a career as a writer/editor working in various industries, but part of my mind was still back in Highgate cemetery, spawning a cast of characters to inhabit this moody necropolis. Decades later, I finally sat down to write The Angel of Highgate, a novel in which the cemetery functions as a major character in the dramatic action.

Described as “the wickedest man in London”, a description which certainly seems fitting at the start of the novel where there’s a little bit of playful misleading from yourself, main character Lord Geoffrey Thraxton has to win us readers over, which he does.  How did you develop the character of this unlikely hero?

My protagonist, Lord Geoffrey Thraxton is a louche lord with Byronesque pretensions and a morbid fascination with death. Like Highgate, Thraxton is a dark mirror of the Victorian era, whose outward veneer of Empire, modernity and wealth concealed a seething underworld of vice and crime, crushing poverty, and rampant disease such as consumption (tuberculosis), which prematurely snuffed out rich and poor alike. It could be argued that the Victorians fetishised death with their elaborate mourning rituals and their creation of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries—Highgate, Kensal Green, etc.  A more shocking example currently circulating the web is photos of Victorian families posing with dead relatives/children.  Although ghastly and ghoulish to modern eyes, the photographs were taken as treasured mementos of a lost beloved.

Like many of the time, Thraxton suffered a deep trauma in early childhood when his mother died.  Thraxton’s brutish father soon remarried and withdrew all love from the young boy, who was left to wander the cold halls of Thraxton hall, forgotten and alone. By chance the young lord strayed into the family mausoleum and found that the screws of his mother’s coffin had been removed. Thraxton opened the lid . . . and crawled inside, seeking the comforting embrace of his mother’s arms.

 “The Angel of Highgate” is a highly enjoyable Victorian novel.  Which novels from the Victorian period have given you the most enjoyment?

Anything by Dickens, of course. Bleak House is arguably my favourite. I read Oliver Twist at very young age and still remember it vividly (especially the scene where he is apprenticed to a coffin maker and spends a terrifying night alone with the coffins). This scene is probably what gave me the twisted sensibilities that later drove me to write The Angel of Highgate. The Woman in White and Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, are other faves. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot is poetic and beautiful. And of course, Austen is represented by Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The Victorians produced a singularly amazing coterie of poets/playwrights and novelists. 

 

Some of Vaughn’s Victorian picks

One section which is written with real relish is how Lord Thraxton deals with a critic who savaged his poetry.  Thraxton describes critics as “leeches sucking on the body of art” and his subsequent treatment should make us reviewers wince.  What’s the worst criticism you have had to endure?

I don’t know if it was apparent to readers (some material was edited out) but Thraxton was a pretty lousy poet and the unfortunate critic’s scathing review of Thraxton’s collection of poetry was entirely warranted.

I have to admit that bad reviews wound at the deepest level and are hard to recover from. At first I read every review, good or bad. But I have found that the bad reviews tend to stick in one’s mind much longer than the good reviews, so now I stop reading a review as soon as I gather that it is turning negative. (There is enough rejection in a novelist’s life; I don’t need to go looking for more.)

I will say that reviewers on web sites are generally fairer than the snarky comments one reads on sites like GoodReads or Amazon. There is a lot of obvious trolling and “sock-puppeting” taking place on these sites and reading some critiques it soon becomes apparent that the reviewer has not even read the book, as evidenced by confused character identifications and other giveaways.

One thing that helps me put criticism in perspective is to read reviews of books by authors that I greatly admire. Even terrific writers who have written terrific books receive the odd nasty review. On GoodReads you can check out reader reviews of books such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In amongst the five star reviews you will find a scattering of one and two star reviews by people trying to convince the rest of the world that, despite the massive success of these novels, the books are trash and that the rest of us are deluded fools. I don’t understand why these people can’t admit that the novel was just “not their kind of book.”

Speaking of which, I recently received the worst review I’ve ever had on the website Fandom Post. The reviewer opined that every character was a cliché, every situation in the book was a cliché, and basically hated every sentence.

The sheer vitriol of the review took my aback, since most of the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I think the reviewer even hated the cover art and the type font. If only I could arrange a meeting between this critic and my antagonist, Dr. Silas Garrette (insert fiendish laughter here: Moohahaha!)

What’s next for Vaughn Entwistle?

I am currently writing the third novel in my Paranormal Casebooks series, entitled The Faery Vortex and I am also working on a collection of Ghost/Horror/Weird fiction stories. 

Lastly, I would like to end by thanking Phil Ramage and all the other independent book bloggers out there. Now that most major newspapers have decreased or reduced the size of their book review pages, independent Book Bloggers are vital resource for both readers and writers alike.

 Thanks, to you all for what you do.

 

Thanks for the thumbs up, Vaughn and for the considered responses to the questions which have certainly enriched the experience of “The Angel Of Highgate” for me.  Both this and his two novels  in his “Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”  “The Revenant of Thraxton Hall” and “The Dead Assassin” are available from Amazon (Clicking on the titles should take you straight there).

For more information about Vaughn Entwistle you can visit his website or the website of his publishers Titan Books.

 

 

A Man Of Genius- Lynn Rosen (Una 2016 ) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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I was approached by the publicity team working on this novel to take a look.  I’m always fascinated by late developers.  Ian McKay, charmed me last year with his debut novel at 76.  Here we have an American octogenarian’s debut.

It seems from the author’s acknowledgements that this has spent many years in the pipeline but has now made its appearance via Una publications and is available in the UK as paperback and e-book via Amazon.

Early reviews have made comparisons to both “Wuthering Heights” and “Rebecca” and I can see where they are coming from, to an extent, particularly in structure.  Basically, Rosen’s book is an old-fashioned murder mystery, that fits in nicely with the Golden Age of Crime Fiction.  It’s a little more than that, however.  There are gothic undertones and a number of quite thorny moral issues are raised.

At a social event a lawyer, Carlyle Richards, approaches her superior with concerns she had over a case involving the estate of a famed architect.  This causes a string of reminiscences from the veteran lawyer Arthur Dolinger who undertakes to fill the gaps.  This is his account.  It is the narrative style that brings to mind “Wuthering Heights” as Dollinger, an unreliable narrator, produces his version of events through what he believes other characters encountered with occasional interjections from himself.  Like that classic novel, you do have to keep reminding yourself who is telling the tale.

“The man of genius” is architect Samuel Grafton-Hall.  “Cunning” might be a more fitting epithet.  With many unfinished projects due to litigation from over-expenditure, a wife who is often the uncredited creative force, a team of hand-picked architects working under his name and a complex love life which involves remote island locations this is a man with a lot of secrets to keep.  It is up to Dollinger putting himself in the position of the junior lawyer, Grafton-Hall’s wives, lovers and the architect himself to unravel things.

It is all quite intriguing.  The architectural theme gives the whole novel a sense of grandeur and the resolution taking place on an island which consists of one large house feels suitably Agatha Christie-like.  I’m sure Lynn Rosen must be delighted to see this labour of love in print and she certainly exhibits enough talent for me to want to read more from her in the future.

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The Man of Genius is published in 2016 by Una Publications

Two from Steven Saylor Catilina’s Riddle (1998) & The Venus Throw (1995)- A Murder They Wrote Review

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Before reading “Catilina’s Riddle” I had polished off another four books by this writer.  I especially loved the first of this series “Roman Blood” which was published in 2007 but since then he has settled into a groove of very satisfying, enjoyable novels.  At the centre is the likeable hero Gordanius the Finder and his family.  Saylor has a very accessible style which makes him a must for both historical and crime fiction fans.  I think I was so impressed by “Roman Blood” because it seemed like a breath of fresh air, but now, five books on I have got used to his style.

In this novel Gordanius has retired to a farm in the Roman countryside away from the intrigue and dangers of the city, having been left the property in a friend’s will.  The friend’s family who own the neighbouring farm are far from happy about this arrangement and unrest in Rome begins to trickle into Gordanius’ life when he agrees to grant a favour to old friend Cicero.  The “real” event behind this novel is Catilina’s attempt at rebellion and so Gordanius needs to become directly involved with Catilina.  I knew nothing about this historical figure and probably if pushed would have said  it was a woman, but no, Catilina is male, full of charisma and when he is around the writing really takes off.  I can tell that Saylor has enjoyed writing about him.  Because of this I can forgiveness a certain lightness of plot and, paradoxically, heavy-handedness by the author to convey back story.  This is something I have noticed about Saylor before and here it is particularly evident in a scene with Gordanius and his neighbour near the beginning of the book.  This is counterbalanced with some very good sections with Gordanius and Catilina and some seamless incorporation of Roman rituals (Gordanius’ son reaching adulthood).  The standard of the Roma Sub Rosa series is maintained with this book.

This led me on to “The Venus Throw”.  Saylor has written these books out of chronological order so if you read the series using publication date it skips around a little.  On his website you can find the actual reading order for the books, so although this was published earlier than “Catilina’s Riddle”, in the sequence of things it is the next book.

Gordanius is now in his fifties and has two grown up adopted sons (one a soldier and the always likeable Eco a Finder like his Dad) and a teenage daughter with his Egyptian ex-slave wife, Bethesda. An old mentor from Gordanius’ days in Egypt turns up asking for protection.  Gordanius is unable to provide it and the man ends up murdered.  The case to find the murderer and the trial involves the Finder’s family, Cicero (defender of the accused), the poet Catallus and a notorious brother and sister Clodius and Clodia.  Once again the exposition of back story is a little cumbersome and the pace does flag during the trial but there is nothing here that will make me give up on this series.  Incidentally the Venus Throw refers to a dice throw and not a blanket for an armless statue!

Steven Saylor is an American writer who may not be the very  best in writing about Ancient Rome but is one of the most entertaining.  There is an ambivalence towards sexuality which often comes across in his characters which often produces an erotic undertone which I think he handles very well.

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“Catilina’s Riddle” was published in 1998 and “The Venus Throw” in 1995.  They are part of the Roma Sub Rosa series and are published in the UK by Robinson.  I notice that Amazon has an omnibus edition of the first four novels in a Kindle edition currently for the bargain price of £6.99.