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Monday, May 3, 2010

Murder's Immortal Mask. Paul Doherty. Headline Publishing Group. (2008)

A very enjoyable period crime story set in Imperial Rome. Two prostitutes are found murdered and mutilated, creating fears that a notorious killer, Nefandus, had returned to the city. Attius Enobarbus, suspected in the past of being Nefandus, is found murdered in a room locked from the inside. Attius was involved with plans being made by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena and his death raises questions that need to be answered. Helena gives her favourite investigator, Claudia, the task of finding out who killed Attica and finding Nefandus. The case is severely complicated by the recent rise in power by the Christian Church and the location of one of its most important and sacred sites. The story is very well structured, the reveals are well staged, the plot lines are carefully bound up together and the conclusion is very satisfying.
The sturdy plot and the well designed mechanics are not the greatest pleasure of the book, that lies with the cast and the context. Paul Doherty has a considerable gift for creating engaging and credible characters who fit into their environment. Claudia moves through a brilliantly evoked Rome like a native, from the dreadful slums to the Imperial Palace she confidently carries out her investigation. She is confident and competent, she works hard at the problems presented to her. The supporting cast, including a superbly unpleasant villain, are very well developed, they all have the spark of life within them. Rome itself, with is narrow streets, bustling crowds and myriad smells is sharply realised, the barely restrained brutality of life in the city is made clear and adds depth and colour to the story.
Thoroughly engaging and very well written, a pleasure.

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