CONSPIRACIES OF ROME
Feb 2008 £7.99
Reviewer L J Hurst
No matter what condition it is in, or which enemy might be knocking at the door, there always is and has been backstabbing going on in Rome. For the thriller writer the question has to be, when? Is it the Rome of the late Republic, or the early Empire? The Rome of the Middle Ages or the Rome of today? Rome has managed to be the same and yet different in every period. Richard Blake has found another of those Romes: that of 607 AD. Christianity has been established across the remains of the Empire, but the Empire itself is split into two, with the Emperor resident in Constantinople, while the Lombards have a kingdom of their own to the north of the Alps, and follow the Arian heresy rather the rule of the Pope.
In England, the Pope is still hoping to make angels of the Angles: Aelric is one of them, in theory a member of the conquering ruling class, whose relatives are ending unhappily, and whose attempts to make another life for himself in the Church are spoiled by his taste for young ladies. Not a wise move when those ladies might have fathers in power. Aelric and his church master, Maximin, manage to be sent on a mission to Rome, in theory to bring back Christian scripture and classic literature, though this is also convenient for Aelric as one of his ladies has fallen pregnant. Aelric, events are to prove, is a something of a picaro, an early Flashman.
Rome from a distance looks like the true Christian city on a hill, closer Aerlic finds it is a ruin above broken sewers. Drainholes might be blocked, they might have collapsed, they might allow bodies to be dumped within them. One morning, not long the priest and his acolyte arrive with some gold acquired unusually on their way, Aelric finds the body of his old master, stabbed and battered, victim of perhaps not one but two assaults. Aelric realises that the authorities are unlikely to find the murderers very soon and begins his own investigations. He is fortunate to have the help of one of the last members of the Roman aristocracy; he is lest fortunate to share Lucius’s sexual and pagan activities, which could lead to a heretic’s end. Aelric cannot stop himself, though, it seems.
Richard Blake has found a period rich in opportunities for murder, theft, even share and banking fraud. The Empire and the Papacy do not have common interests, nor do the slaves who still staff the civil service, and the barbarian tribes are learning to use more civilised methods to achieve their aims, as Aelric discovers when he intercepts an encrypted letter. His doubts about what he could do with the knowledge, though, are just another thread in Richard Blake’s tapestry of plot, cunning and brutal death that will move to Constantinople in the next book*. Look out for the series.
* The Terror of Constantinople (Feb 2009 Hbk £19.99)