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Douglas Jackson
As a fan of Coleen McCullough and her tremendous ‘factional’ history based around the machinations of Roman politics, and Simon Scarrow, who writes Roman fiction aligned to missions with epic fights (and a bit of intrigue), I am a bit of a biased fan when it comes to Roman tales of derring do, sex and slaughter. As a result, I approached this favourably and was not let down, albeit this is a bit light on the sex and slaughter side.

This book, by Douglas Jackson, a new author to me, is more in tune with Scarrow type fiction, albeit with some Emperor level intrigue thrown in. Working on the premise that the fortunes of the Emperor and Rome at large are failing in AD 72, the main character Gaius Valerius Verrens, is sent to investigate by Emporer Vespasian to determine why the prime Roman gold mines in Spain have halved their recent output. With a previous investigator having gone missing and claims that a bandit known as the ‘Ghost’ is responsible, this book is part financial inquest and part murder investigation with a whole bunch of action thrown in. We also get to meet characters from Gaius’s previous life as a member of the Roman Legion, including a former gladiator who was a previous comrade in arms.

Whilst a short read, the narrative is sprightly, interesting and plausible. The nuances of Gaius’s character are deftly explained and the interludes and anecdotes casting back to his, and other characters, previous lives are both worthwhile and round the story out nicely. Descriptions of the way Romans lived and how gold mining took place also add much value to the narrative. I will definitely read the previous novels (the first is called Hero of Rome) although this reads well as a stand-alone. Having said that, I suspect reading them in order will allow for a continuous narrative and a familiarity which will enhance the reading experience.

As with a previous recommendation in an earlier review by me about a book in the Vespasian series by Robert Fabbri, this is definitely a series of books to look out for a set for Christmas if you or someone you know is a fan of Roman history or Gladiator. A look at customer reviews on Amazon all read immensely favourably, so my bias for this kind of fiction is justified, hence 5 mushroom heads !

5 mushroom heads.

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