Another Lindsey Davis rival?

In my retirement I have time for historical fiction, and am interested in new kids on the Graeco-Roman block. It was the late, great Mary Renault who turned me on to the genre, and she has had worthy successors, like our own brilliant Lindsey Davis of course, and the delightful Caroline Lawrence. There have also been male writers. I was delighted to stumble across Steven Saylor’s books in America before they were published here; he’s someone I’d recommend to any pupil studying Sallust’s Catiline or Cicero’s In Catilinam, for instance. Now I’m enjoying (in haphazard order) Simon Scarrow’s ‘Eagle’ series, and I’d recommend the Britain volumes to Class Civ students.

Allan Massie’s fictionalised biographies (Augustus, Tiberius et al) are good, solid stuff for those who don’t need their historical fiction laced with too much sex and violence, and David Wishart’s Virgil, Ovid etc are very readable, but I personally haven’t carried away a lasting impresion.

There have been excellent single volumes, like The Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.

I confess that the length of Colleen McCullough’s books has deterred me from reading them. A colleague enjoyed them.

There are also books to avoid on grounds of accuracy, but I think I shall avoid the libel courts by refraining from naming them. One detective series set in Roman Britain has a victim found in the vomit in a vomitorium. A single volume on Pompey has the heroine go upstairs to have a bath. The worst written style was in a book I bought in Vindolanda – they were no longer selling it on my last visit.

Anyway, I live in hopes that another gripping and accurate writer has come along. Here’s the review from Blog Critics:

The Arcturus series is a new mystery collection set in
Roman-occupied Britain. The governor, Agricola, has subdued the Britons
and built a fragile peace after the terrible destruction of the Druids’
sacred isle of Mona and the defeat of Boudicca. But the balance is
precarious; the Romans and the natives barely tolerate each other.

Arcturus is caught with a foot in both worlds. His mother was a
Briton but his father and step-father were both Roman. He has managed
to become a successful physician, officially he is Agricola’s
physician, but he manages to hover in the middle. He feels the tug of
divided loyalties.

In the first book of the series, Nox Dormienda (A Long Night for Sleeping),
after a busy day treating patients, a beautiful woman comes to see
Arcturus. Her name is Gwyna and she claims that the Governor is in
danger.  Arcturus has a knack for solving problems and a bit of a
reputation for it, too. Perhaps because of his knowledge of both
nationalities, he is able to win trust on both sides. He is a little
distracted, though, by Gwyna, and the other interesting members of his
household are both a hindrance and a help.

Before you know it a murder has taken place, and then another. The
Romans blame the native community, particularly one young Druid who is
conveniently in their path. Can Arcturus unravel the mystery in time to
find the real killer, save the young man and avoid the civil war that
is sure to erupt if the Romans execute the wrong man?

This mystery novel is full of well developed characters and has an
intriguing plot. The setting of Roman Britain is so masterfully crafted
that it is obvious the author has immersed herself in it. You can feel
the mud and the dreary rain and see the gray mist that covers the
Londinium of the time. I loved the inclusion of the excellent glossary
in the back which included every Latin and Celtic word used in the book.

In her author’s note, Ms. Stanley explains that she is a fan of Noir
films and the classic private eye stories of Raymond Chandler. That is
certainly apparent in this engrossing mystery. Some of the snappy
language was hilarious and the whole time I was reading it I kept
seeing Humphrey Bogart in his overcoat (make that a toga) and hearing
Dick Tracy in my ear. It was a vivid, exciting, hard-boiled mystery
with a bit of fun thrown in!

I hope I will be able to review the next book in the series, Maledictus. I have to know what happens to Arcturus and the rest of the lively characters that live in Ms. Stanley’s world of Roman Noir.

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