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by Paul Doherty
Headline, April 2008
308 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755338448

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Claudia is a kind of roving private detective employed by the Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, to solve problems which threaten Rome or the throne (there not being much difference between the two). In this case a serial killer is massacring prostitutes in the fashion of a previous serial-killer. One of the suspects in the case is found murdered in a locked-room mystery. These two problems are the challenges which Helena sets Claudia.

It makes a refreshing change to have a Roman mystery which is not set in the 1st century (BC or CE) and there is no doubt that the early 4th century and the reign of Constantine make a fascinating and historically significant back-drop. The significance is of course his 'conversion' and more importantly the emergence of Christianity as the official religion of Rome. These events, which are undoubtedly of world-historical significance, form the back-drop to this book and Doherty manages to convey quite an amount of historical information in a readable and quite engrossing form.

Which is not to say that we are lacking on the mystery front. We have a prostitute serial-killer (sigh), a locked-room mystery (hurrah) and various thriller elements. On top of this Doherty piles on the 'sights and sounds' descriptions; whether the reader enjoys these is a matter of taste, but at times they seem to obscure and delay the mystery. Unusually this is a book in which there is in fact too much going on. At bottom is a really well-plotted mystery in which various plot-strands are satisfyingly resolved at the finish. So the meat of the book is fundamentally sound; there is just rather too much sauce as Inspector Japp might have remarked to Poirot. I do not of course refer to the mystification which is essential but to the provision of historical 'atmosphere' and the unnecessary woman-in-jeopardy elements. Still this book must be recommended - any reader will certainly get their money's worth and some judicious skipping, if your tastes do not run to somewhat over-written descriptive passages, will reveal a first-class mystery plot. In addition to which any writer who attempts the, alas all too rare today, locked-room mystery deserves substantial plaudits.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, October 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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