The Mystery of Healing by A P McGrath

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The Mystery of Healing by A P McGrath

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The warrior's doctor becomnes a detective when his friend and teacher is murdered. A good story, well told. Some of the descriptions reflect the harsh realities of life in the 2ndCentury, CE.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 403 Date: January 2021
Publisher: Independently published
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-8594690271

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We meet Solon in Pergamon in the second century of the common era and he's the physician on duty at the munus - the games put on for the amusement of the populace. The remuneration isn't high but the work gives the doctor a feeling of virtue and hones his skills: Solon wants the warriors to live. It's quite a spectacle: the magistri are the charge hands and when we first see them, they're sprinkling gold dust onto the lions' manes to make them look more impressive. The sagitarii are the archers and the beastiarii are the condemned criminals who are going to fight for their lives with the wild animals. Today, it's the crocodiles.

Solon is on his own: his mother, Pallas, died many years ago and he suspects that this also applies to his father, Helios. He has a younger brother, Athanas, who's a lawyer but it's ten years since he's seen or heard from him. He has a sexual relationship with Agethe but she's married to someone Solon would be wise not to upset. He's attracted to Sophia, a young medical student, but sometimes she seems strangely distant from him. It's her presence at the home of his former teacher, Diodotus of Miletus, and his wife, Eirene which encourages him to visit. That's how he discovered that Diodotus had been killed and that a young man with mental problems, Cadmus, was accused of the murder.

Just the story of Solon's life at the munus, of his stitching up the gladiators, sometimes so that they could go out and be killed in the arena, would have made a satisfying story but there is actually a very good mystery which had me flummoxed right up to the end, despite all the clues being there. It's obvious that a great deal of research has been done into the period but I never had the feeling that every last piece of information had been shoehorned in. There is a very vivid picture of the time and those without a strong stomach might - occasionally - feel that the descriptions are a little too vivid. I found them unforgettable.

The characterisation is excellent: I came to care about Solon. He's young and not afraid of enjoying himself but he's also got a sense of responsibility - to his immediate circle, including those who've helped him, but also to the wider community. He goes beyond what he's paid to do at the munus and the gladiators know that they can come to him for help. Cadmus, who frightened many people because of his mental problems, relied heavily on Solon, whose support was invaluable when he was imprisoned. He's a character who stays with you long after you've finished reading. And I finished reading far too quickly. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

It's set in a different period but we've also enjoyed A P McGrath's A Burning in the Darkness.

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