Inevitably, my “Original Sins” strand of reviews comes around to Paul Doherty. There are three series that qualify – the Ancient Egypt mysteries featuring Judge Amerotke, the Ancient Rome mysteries featuring Claudia and this series, featuring everyone’s favourite Macedonian, Alexander the Great.
It is 334 BC and Alexander stands poised with his troops, ready to cross the Hellespont and engage the forces of Darius the Great, the King of Persia. The portents are not on Alexander’s side. The sacrifices are tainted and his guides, essential for making progress into Asia, are turning up dead, their bodies found with messages showing personal insight into Alexander. Persian spies have infiltrated the camp.
Enter Telamon, a physician and childhood friend of Alexander, sent by Alexander’s mother. But no sooner has he arrived than a priestess of Athena lies dead, poisoned inside a sealed tent. More and more deaths follow. Is there any way that Alexander’s more and more desperate position will possibly lead to success? Or is his campaign doomed to fail before it begins?
Well, obviously not. He’s not called Alexander the Great for nothing…
As we’ve mentioned before, this both is and isn’t the start of a series. Doherty wrote two other books, A Murder In Macedon and A Murder In Thebes, under the pseudonym Anna Apostolou. I think they were only published in the US, but I can heartily recommend looking them up. They are both excellent, some of the best work that Paul Doherty has done, in my humble opinion.
While the events therein precede this book, they don’t quite gel. The sleuth in those books, Miriam, is not present here and there is much discussion here about the death of Alexander’s father, Philip, which was resolved in A Murder In Macedon. It’s possible that Alexander is hiding the fact that he knows the truth, but to be honest, this is what is known these days as a reboot.
The similarity in styles between the two series is readily apparent though. Doherty is not content to present the events as a mere historical mystery. There’s a war going on here, and, while it seems for a while that we might not get to said war, rest assured it is coming. Plotwise, there’s a lot going on here and this is another book where virtually every character is up to something. Unlike some others, though, each character has their own agenda, rather than being part of a mass conspiracy.
The main murderer is pretty guessable, to be honest, especially as there was, to me at least, an echo of the “previous” book, A Murder In Thebes. Not directly, but it was close enough to make me sure of what was going on. One other twist though completely blindsided me, despite it making perfect sense (and not making sense until it was revealed) for anyone who knows their history.
Again, a historical mystery that is more thriller than mystery – the “locked tent” is pretty simple, to be honest – although it is fairly clued, in a “only one thing makes sense of the facts” kind of way. Something different from Doherty’s medieval fare and all the more refreshing for that. Not quite in the class that is A Murder In Thebes, but highly recommended, nonetheless.