In A Murder In Macedon, the murder of Philip of Macedon led to the ascension of Alexander the Great to the throne – once his Jewish friends Miriam and Simeon Bartimaeus sorted out the various plotters behind the events. Now Alexander is proving his credentials as a leader across the ancient world. When rumours of Alexander’s demise prompt a revolt in Thebes, the repercussions are severe. Alexander sacks the city and intends to raze it to the ground – but first he wishes to claim the legendary Crown of Oedipus and find the traitor that causes the revolt in the first place. A traitor who also caused the death of two of Alexander’s leading soldiers – one of whom was thrown from a window from a room with a securely locked and barred door and also contained a large savage dog. Miriam is charged with finding the spy and working out how to claim the crown… maybe the ghost of Oedipus, limping around the town caving in Macedonian skulls with his club can help.
This is the second of two novels in this short series of books published under the pseudonym of Anna Apostolou by Paul Doherty. Whereas the first took historical events and wove an intriguing mystery around them, this time we’re much more into the imagination of the writer. So how do the two compare in terms of quality?
OK, you’re probably getting tired of me extoling the virtues of the books of Paul Doherty. Well, tough, because here I go again. Although possibly, if that is indeed possible, more so. This is one of his finest so far.
First of all, the setting is once more vividly brought to life. There is no secret being made about the unpleasantness of war, and the extreme methods of Alexander, especially when angry. Thebes is basically flattened and its population murdered or enslaved and that’s by the end of chapter one. Other times Alexander’s anger almost gets him into trouble, but his tactical and political knowledge shines through as well. He knows that if he passes the test to retrieve the Crown of Oedipus from the puzzle chamber – just some fire, spikes and snakes to negotiate – then all of Greece will accept his as their ruler. And if he doesn’t, then he will look like a fool. Oedipus’s ghost isn’t helping his cause either…
As for the mystery – it’s rather wonderful. Proper clues abound – there is really only one logical solution to everything, even though the varied events seem to make no sense at all – not just the locked room, but how someone could get close enough to Alexander’s guards on a number of occasions to kill them with a massive club. I’d worked out part of it, but the solution is genuinely clever and the locked room is a masterpiece – devilishly simple and well-hidden. I was a little worried at one point that Doherty was going for “the ghost of Oedipus scared him out of the window” but it’s much more cunning – and feasible – than that. And there’s a clue for that bit as well – which, of course, I completely missed.
Any complaints? Just that this book isn’t in print in this country and other, lesser, historical mysteries proliferate the shelves of our bookshops. So, a word of advice – you can get an imported copy via Amazon for £2.81, including postage and packing. I recommend that you do – one of the most enjoyable mysteries that I’ve read for a good while. As highly recommended as is possible.
Now, after the end of this series of Alexander the Great, I’ll be turning soon to The House of Death, the first in a trilogy of books from the non-pseudonymed Paul Doherty featuring… yes, Alexander the Great. How odd… but more on that soon.