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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Song of the Gladiator. Paul Doherty. Headline (2004)


A really enjoyable mystery story set in Imperial Rome. The Christian Church having survived a savage persecution by Diocletian has emerged as a public force under Emperor Constantine and more significantly his mother, Helena. The church is riven by theological disputes and Constantine invites leader to a debate at the Villa Pulchra. At the same time the gladiator Murranus discovers his opponent has been poisoned, enormous bets have been placed and it appears someone wants to ensure a profitable result. Claudia, Murranus' lover and Helena's spy is summoned to the Villa Pulchra where she finds that there is no shortage of plotting. When as scared relic disappears and one of the churchmen is violently murdered the situation becomes critical. The plot moves very swiftly, encompassing imperial politics, murder and deadly gladiatorial games with sure confidence. The reveals are very well stages and the conclusion highly satisfactory.
Paul Dohery creates a large and very lively cast within a vividly realised setting. The story moves easily from the Imperial debates at the Villa Pulchra with the treacherous undertows that swirl around it to the dangers of being a gladiator. The greatest danger was not necessarily within the arena, there at least the opponent was clearly identified and rules did apply. Outside the arena with so much money at stake the dangers were much greater and much better concealed.
Claudia is a great character, she has keen wits and great courage. She acts to drive events and to control and shape them, as do the rest of the cast. This makes for an exciting and swift narrative, there are no passengers in the story. Everybody wants to be seen and heard and Paul Doherty has the skill to ensure that they are without the story loosing form or focus. Highly entertaining with a very well developed mystery at its heart, well worth reading.

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