By David Wishart
Hodder & Stoughton - Sept. 2002
ISBN: 0340771275 - HB
Historical Crime - AD 34 Rome and Sicily
Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
Ancient Rome had many similarities to modern times and one of them was the population's obsession with sport. David Wishart lifts the lid on the world of chariot racing in his sixth novel about Marcus Corvinus, the purple-striper with a penchant for slumming it in seedy wine bars and solving crimes. While whiling away some time in one of these bars Corvinus briefly sees Pegasus, the most celebrated of all the drivers, and then discovers that he has been found murdered in a nearby alley. Naturally, he takes it upon himself to find out whodunit and thus starts the sort of convoluted case that Wishart excels in as Corvinus has to find out why Pegasus left the powerful Greens faction with the support of the imperial family to race with the lowly Whites, and why nobody seems to want to talk about any aspect of the case. It is a search that will lead him and his wife Perilla as far away as Sicily with more than a few surprises in between.
As usual, it isn't easy to guess the perpetrator of the crime but there seems to be more of a period feel about this novel than some of his others. My usual gripe about novels set in Ancient Rome is that although the Romans were sophisticated in many ways, they still inhabited the ancient world and there is a vast gulf separating then and now. This time, however, I felt that this gulf was more present. Also, although the author insists that he hasn't been anywhere near Sicily and Mount Etna, he certainly concocts a wonderful description of somewhere and thus delivers some of the book's most memorable scenes. If the book has a fault, it is - unusually for Wishart - its awesome length at just over 500 pages, which means that part of the novel is repetitive and tends to tread water somewhat in some places. On the whole, though, this is a highly readable novel and features an aspect of Roman life that isn't often described in any detail.
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