historical fiction


A historical murder mystery set in the year 512.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 96 including a small glossary and a short explanation about the times.

Argolicus, a former Roman magistrate, has returned home to a villa near a town called Squillace. His uncle Wiliarit, who is a monk, comes to see him and his mother. However, soon Wiliarit and Nikolaos, who is Argolicus’ tutor slave, come across a body at a nearby meadow. The body has a violet head injury and was murdered several days ago. Only a distinctive ring reveals that it is Argolicus’ former friend Lucas. Lucas and Argolicus were friends in childhood but Lucas’ father doesn’t like Argolicus and his family because he considers them heretics. So Bartholomaeus forbade the boys to see each other. However, Lucas’ death is a blow to Argolicus.

Argolicus tells Vibius Horatius Bartholomaeus that his son is dead. During the visit he realizes that Bartholomaeus will not answer any questions that Argolicus has. However, Lucas’ sister gives Argolicus a small note and says cryptically “They are lying.” Later, the sister reveals that when Lucas left, he took with him a jewel encased icon from the local bishop’s vault where it was held for safekeeping. The icon was technically his but Bartholomaeus was furious. Argolicus has a difficult investigation ahead, especially because the culture considers murder a family matter.

Slavery is still in full practice; the Churches and people own and use slaves.

The schism between the two families is about religion: today, Argolicus’ family is called Ostrogoth, Arian Christians. In the whole country Ostrogoth’s culture and religion is the one in power but in this part of the country the Trinitarians are in power. The characters talk a bit about this divide and we also get to see other fascinating cultural differences to modern times. And of course similarities as well.

This was a nice little mystery. This time the pool of suspects is quite small and Argolicus doesn’t have ready access to them, except Lucas’ sister who asks for his help.

Unfortunately, the book has some editing errors. Otherwise, it was quite an enjoyable read.

For about a day, you can join the Kickstarter project to fund a novel length Agrolicus mystery, the Grain Merchant.

Advertisements

A historical murder mystery set in the year 512.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 92 which includes the first chapter of the next mystery, the Vellum Scribe

Gaius Vitellus Argolicus is a former Roman praefect, known for his careful study of people and places which lead to fair judgments. However, he’s not good a politics and so he leaves Rome and returns to countryside. His old friend asks him to take a book to a scholarly young man. The man, Philo, lives along Argolicus’ route, so he decides to visit Philo’s family.

However, when Argolicus arrives, he finds that the house is in disarray because Philo’s father has been murdered. Servius Norbanus Pius was a man who didn’t care for the new king Theodrick’s reign and the way the king appointed new men in positions than had been long held by the sons of old Roman families. He had inherited a very profitable shipping business so his murder could affect a lot of people. Argolicus decides to investigate together with his mentor and slave Nikolaos. However, they have only a couple of days to investigate before their ship leaves.

Pius’ family tells that he was a dutiful father and husband but he spent a lot of time away from his family. He tried to mold his scholarly son into his image but Philo isn’t like his father. Pius’ brother runs the shipping business and lives in the nearby harbor town of Portus. Pius was the paterfamilias, the highest-ranking male who decided everything for his family members. Philo’s sister Titiana seemed to have been on the edge even before their father was murdered.

The short book is meticulously researched. This is the time when Rome is ruled by the Ostrogoths and the patricans, of course, resent that. I don’t remember any other books set in this time. Under Roman law, a murder is a family matter and it’s up to the family to find the murderer and then sue them. Agrolicus can’t help them officially, just as a favor.

The writing is a bit awkward at times but otherwise very readable except for some editing errors. Pius is not an agreeable man but someone who has a lot of political connections and so a lot of potential enemies. However, nobody is too obvious so Agrolicus must talk to a lot of people.

I enjoyed the story which brings Rome under Ostrogoth rule to life.

Altair has a Kickstarter project to fund a novel length Agrolicus mystery.

The 16th book in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series. However, this time it’s not a murder mystery, rather an adventure story.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Publisher: Avon
Page count: 420

This time, we return to the past to the (until now) missing 1907-1908 season when the Emersons didn’t have an excavation. Instead they return to the Lost Oasis or Holy Mountain, as the locals call it. It’s a hidden place where the culture is mixture of Meroitic and Egyptian cultures. That place was introduced in the “Last Camel Died at Noon”, the 6th book in the series.

The Emersons are in England planning the next season of excavation, or rather Emerson wants to work in the Valley of the Kings but because of his temper he lost that chance and it’s likely they can’t work at all. But that changes when Merasen appears. He’s an arrogant young man who claims to be the young brother of king Tarek who is ruling the Holy Mountain these days. But a disease is rampant; it has struck both Tarek and his young son. So, Tarek has sent Merasen to Emersons to get help. The Emersons want to help but they’re skeptical about not only about Merasen and his motive, but if they can help at all because Merasen’s journey to them has taken months and the return trip will also take many months. But in the end, Nefret demands to help and the Emersons’ leave. The journey is dangerous, not only because of the dangers in desert but also because the Emersons’ don’t want to lead any other people there. And also, many of them wonder if they can trust Merasen or is he leading them into a trap?

This time, Ramses is hopelessly in love with Nefret but he thinks he doesn’t have any chance with her, so he hasn’t told her. In fact, he’s planning to go to Germany and study there for a year, hoping to forget his feelings during that time. But of course he joins his parents, Nefret, Merasen, and loyal Daoud and Selim in their journey to the Holy Mountain. He’s strangely tentative and hesitant, rather than his usual confident self. Nefret is also not her usual self.

During the journey, we meet a group of colorful and interesting characters, most of them suspicious in some way such as a boisterous and rude big game hunter who is very interested to know where the Emersons are going and a suave military captain who seems to know a bit too much about the Emersons’ plans.

This time the story isn’t a murder mystery but in the line of old pulp adventures where white men discover “new” places. Except that the Holy Mountain isn’t a new place to the Emersons but instead they’re worshipped almost as godly figures there. That was a lot of fun. However, I don’t think this was one of the best in the series. It was fun to revisit Holy Mountain but not much actually happens there. I also didn’t really care for the way that Ramses was pining after Nefret especially since we know that they’ll get married.

Otherwise, it was great to see the familiar characters a bit younger.

The 17th book in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 350

I’ve been reading the Peabody mysteries for a long time. Even though it’s been a few years since I read the previous book (Children of the Storm), reading this book was still like coming back to old friends. The cast is huge and so a new reader might be a bit lost among them. I recommend starting the series with the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Amelia and her family are archeologists and amateur sleuths. While they work on excavations around Egypt, mysteries abound. “Another year, another dead body”, and “Another pair of trousers ruined” come true in this book as well. 😉 The first books are written in Amelia’s first person point-of-view. However, this book is again written in a style which started a few books ago: divided between Amelia’s very personal first-person memoirs and document H which Ramses has written in third person POV and very impersonal style.

The wonderful thing about following this long series is to see the characters grow and change. For example, Amelia’s son Ramses has grown up and is now dealing with his own precocious twins. But at the same time, Amelia and Emerson are growing old. Reading about Amelia dying the grey out of her hair in secret was a surprisingly moving touch.

It’s 1922 and Amelia, her husband Emerson, their child Ramses, his wife Nefret and the various other people in the Emerson clan are excavating in Deir el Media. However, Emerson isn’t happy about that.

Mrs. Pentheric arrives to their house and claims that an Egyptian object is cursed and is responsible for her husband’s death. The object in question is an exquisite solid gold statuette in a very good condition. Emerson is convinced that it’s a great historical find which has been robbed from a tomb. Mrs. Pentheric wants Emerson to keep it and to get rid of the curse. Emerson agrees, but only so that he can find out where it came from and then return it to its rightful owner.

Mrs. Pentheric turns out to be quite a famous author of lurid romances and she milks the story all it’s worth. Thanks to her, reporters and tourists start to hound the Emerson residence. But then Mrs. Pentheric’s adult stepchildren try to take the statuette by force. Later, Mrs. Pentheric’s body is discovered and detective fever grips Amelia and her family.

In addition to the huge regular cast, the story has some new characters as well. Most of them aren’t really suspicious people, of course. However, Peters cheats by withholding pertinent info from the readers.

A solid entry to the series for us old fans.

The third book in the historical superhero series set in 1961 USA. It can be read as a stand-alone but you get more out of it by starting with the first book, Serpent’s Sacrifice.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count: 276

Chronologically, this book goes between books one and two in the Serpent series because it follows Marco Myers, the close friend of Alice Seymore who is the heroine of the two first books. At the end of Serpent’s Sacrifice, Marco and his best friend Lionel left Jet City and Alice. They were looking for a cure for Lionel, but later they parted ways.

Now, Marco is a private detective in Metro City trying to scrape together a living. His aunt Allegra, who owns a gym, helps him from time to time. He also has an assistant Colleen Knight who is a black woman with secrets of her own.

Marco used to be superhero Shadow Master. He can sense others’ emotions and using shadows which come out of him, he can manipulate others’ memories and emotions. Unfortunately, he can only affect bad and hurtful memories, forcing the other person to relive them. He hasn’t used his powers much during the past year. Now he’s plagued by dreams of a boy he doesn’t know. He has only one person left who could lead him to the cure and when he dies in Marco’s arms, he’s at a loss at what to do.

However, a beautiful woman approaches him, telling him that she’s just escaped from a facility where superpowered people are held and experimented on. She can help Marco find the cure if he helps her and the doctor who escaped together with her. Out of options Marco agrees but that means that her enemies are now his, too.

Colleen is the granddaughter of a mafioso boss. Her mother Tina is also a mafioso, but never been able to protect Colleen from her grandfather. Colleen has fire-based powers, but she’s always tried to suppress them and doesn’t control them well. Her brother Andrew is missing and she hasn’t told Marco that she’s trying to find him. When she finds out that Andrew was working in the place that experiments with superhumans, she realizes that he might be a prisoner there, too. And that Andrew likely has secrets of his own.

Colleen doesn’t want anything to do with her family. She fell in love with a woman while she was in collage and she’s hiding her sexuality in addition to her powers. Her grandfather knows her well and knows just how to blackmail her. The only one she loves in her family is her brother. She’s not comfortable with her powers at all and has to learn to use them.

Marco is a sensitive man. He loves Alice but thinks that she loves his best friend Lionel and he’s desperate to find a cure for Lionel. He has to confront quite terrible things from his past in addition to dealing with the people who hate and fear superpowered people.

The story is again quite grim and intense, with lots of people getting hurt and Marco dealing with betrayals. The pace is quick with lots of twists.

I really enjoyed most of the characters. Marco is a tortured hero trying his best to do good. Colleen’s family dynamics were very interesting. Some of the more minor characters had depth, too, such as Tina and Marco’s aunt Allegra. I hope we get to see more of Colleen in the future.

The second book in the historical superhero series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 308

The book starts two years after the climatic ending of the first book, Serpent’s Sacrifice. It’s 1962 and Alice lost a lot at the end of the previous book. Her two best friends, and fellow superheroes, have left, her mentor is dying, and Alice herself was crippled. During the two years she’s managed to whip her body back into full mobility but emotionally she’s in a bad place. She’s wracked by guilt because she couldn’t stop her nemesis Phantasm’ horrible scheme, and a lot of innocent people died. She’s also deeply hurt by the way her friends abandoned her and already mourning her mentor. She did inherit a large business and the wealth from her mentor, but she has to pretend to be a clueless heiress during the day. Her friend Rose is part of the civil right movement, but Alice is too obsessed with catching Phantasm to notice it. Alice’s new trainer and secretary Miss Jones is very capable; she even goes undercover to spy on Phantasm and trains Alice mercilessly.

Powered children are being born every day and Phantasm and the cabal she works with have nefarious plans for them. They’re kidnapping some of the kids. When a couple of kids disappear from an orphanage Alice is funding, Alice feels responsible and tries to find out what happened to them. At the same time, she’s working to undermine Phantasm’s plans.

Serpent’s Bite is a more violent and darker book than the previous one. Emotionally Alice is in a dark place and some people die despite her best efforts. Also, her friend Lionel seems to be in league with Alice’s nemesis. Rose and Alice’s relationship is also strained.

The characters are well-developed. Alice herself doesn’t have any powers but she has a Kevlar suit and her batons and martial artist’s skills. Rose also make a couple of other gadgets to her. Rose has her own passions, too, she isn’t just a gadget inventor. Uncle Logan and the healer Gerard are also well-drawn.

The story was fast-paced and had some surprises. I really liked most of the book except for the romance elements. However, there were far less romance elements than in the previous book. While the story is mostly told from Alice’s third person point-of-view, there are a couple of short chapters from her nemesis’ POV which told us nicely what the opposition was doing.

I had fun figuring out the references to comics. The mansion where Alice now lives is, of course, a nod to Avengers’ and Xavier’s mansions. Some very familiar names also popped up: Mrs. Frost, Mr. Marsden, Mr. Parker, and of course Uncle Logan. Of course, the whole mentor/student thing is an older troupe than comics and so is going undercover in high society (shades of Zorro here).

I thoroughly enjoyed this second book and recommend the series to any superhero fan.

A classic which has languished on my shelves for far too long.

Publication year: 1894
Format: print
Publisher: Penguin Books
Page count: 140

This is an old swashbuckling romance story which has been filmed several times and also referred to in many books. It’s quite short and plot-driven.

Rudolf Rassendyll is a British gentleman of leisure who loves his leisure. His sister-in-law cajoles him into going abroad and he decides to visit Ruritania from because his great-grandmother is from there. The new king of Ruritania is about to be crowned and Rudolf thinks it would be fun to go to the coronation. He sets off.

But when he stops at a small inn in Zenda, strange things start to happen. He hears about the conflict between the new king, Rudolf, and his half-brother Michael, called Black Michael. They both want the throne also their beautiful cousin princess Flavia. When Rudolf strolls in the forest, he stumbles upon the king and his two loyal men. The king marvels because Rudolf looks almost exactly like the king. The king invites him to dinner. In the morning, when the king should continue to the coronation, Rudolf and the two guards find him drugged. Quickly, they decide that Rudolf should take the king’s place which he does. Unfortunately, when they return to get the king, after the coronation, they find out that the king has been kidnapped – no doubt by Black Michael. Rudolf has no choice but to continue the charade and also woo the beautiful princess.

This was short and quick read. It moves along quickly. While it’s mostly a fun adventure story, it also a love story. It’s sent in a time where duty and loyalty are regarded more than love so it’s not a happy romance.

The characters are very basic: Fritz and Sapt are loyal armsmen to the king and they keep Rudolf (mostly) out of trouble in the court. Michael is a jealous and scheming villain and he has the Six, a group of nefarious minions to do his bidding. Kind Rudolf is a drunk who cares more about his own pleasures than his kingdom. Flavia is at times a wilting flower or a head-strong princess, whichever serves the plot better. The plot is also quite simple and straight-forward. Still, this was an entertaining read.

Next Page »