Alexandria, 36 AD. Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, a Roman businessman is ruined as his fleet of ships and their cargo has been lost. As his wife leaves for Rome, taking his son with her, Aculeo descends into a drunken depression. That is, until he spots Iovinus, an ex-business colleague, who was supposed to have been lost at sea with the fleet. This begins his quest for the truth about his ruination – but the path to the truth is complicated by uncovering a number of dead “pornes” – prostitutes – which are somehow related to the business at hand.
As Aculeo gets closer to the truth, he finds not only his own life at risk but those of others who look to him for protection. Can he find a way through the darkness opposing him – or is his destiny in the lap of the Gods?
I was asked to review this book, currently a stand-alone thriller, by the author based on a recent review I did of Ariana Franklin’s Mistress Of The Art Of Death, which intrigued me somewhat, as I was a bit mean about that one. Nonetheless, I’m always willing to give historical mysteries a try, and it fitted in nicely with a theme that I’ll be pursuing over the next couple of months – currently with the working title of Original Sins – thanks to TomCat for that. Namely, those mystery novels set in Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc.
It’s always refreshing to go into a book with no pre-conceptions. I had literally no idea what to expect from Johnstone. A minor bit of research revealed that this is his second book, his first being a modern day thriller, Chalk Valley, so this is his first foray into history.
It’s an impressive one, as well. Alexandria is brought to life at all levels of society, and we follow Aculeo through his quest to find various truths, intersecting with a wide supporting cast, and with some surprising twists along the way – one in particular stood out.
One thing that is worth pointing out is that this is, for me at least, a rather unique beast. An historical thriller. Not to say that this is not a mystery – there is a significant who’s-doing-what-to-whom element to the plot – but structurally, it feels like something from Jeffrey Deaver, only set in Alexandria. There is, I think, cluing for the main part of the mystery, but I think you need to be much better informed on your classics than I am to spot it. Not that this matters in the slightest though. There are at least two genuine surprises in the plot which nonetheless, in hindsight, still made sense. I could say three, but the third one does mean that Aculeo was a bit of a thicky in the past… but as this book is, in part, about his personal growth, then it’s not exactly out of character. Aculeo, as the protagonist, is a convincing character and I’m very interested to see where his story goes.
Any niggles? Just the one. I’m no prude, but it was rather sweary in places. Just seemed a bit over the top at times.
So, overall, a strong debut into the genre and certainly worth a look. Recommended.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Out now as an ebook and at a very reasonable price too.
Alexandria was founded on the north coast of Egypt in 331 BC by Alexander The Great and was Egypt’s capital until 641 AD. It is well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its library, a centre of learning until it was burned down in 48 BC. It was under Roman rule from 80 BC to 641 AD.