The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain

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The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Bruce Macbain's second historical murder mystery featuring the Roman sleuthing talents of Pliny the Younger. Fast-moving, informative, engrossing to the extent that it's even better than the first one and what an ending! Great stuff!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781850794

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Years after we left him in Roman Games, Pliny the Younger has become Roman Governor of Bithynia. Not the most hospitable of regions, its Greek residents regard the Romans with hatred; an emotion that, in many cases, is reciprocated by the Romans. No matter how bad this is though, it gets worse when a high ranking official dies mysteriously. Could it have anything to do with the religious sect of Mithras? Possibly but it's not Pliny's only dilemma; at home his beloved young wife Calpurnia is acting somewhat oddly.

This is American academic Bruce Macbain's second fictionalised foray into the world of Roman intellectual Pliny the Younger. (The suffix is to differentiate the younger from the elder Pliny, his uncle, who came to a sticky end during a scientific voyage into Vesuvius's ash cloud. Don't try this at home!) Indeed Dr Macbain knows his history, as we'd expect, but The Bull Slayer confirms he can convert his encyclopaedic knowledge of ancient civilisations into a ripping thriller.

Like its predecessor, the book works as a stand-alone as we're plunged into the world of power hunger and corruption, not to mention the coven of bitchy, cruel Roman wives that make Calpurnia's life hell. We also begin to understand that fighting local superstition is as great a problem for Pliny as governing people who don’t want to be governed, at least not by someone in a Roman toga. Then there's the murder…

As Pliny begins to fathom the background the puzzle pieces come to us blurred and out of place. Then gradually they move into focus and position, all seeming to be sewn up nicely. Don't you believe it though; our Professor knows how to tease. When we're just sipping the last of our wine, expecting to glide through to an early bedtime, Bruce cranks it up another gear. Thoughts of an early night flee at the sight of the exciting narrative and an unforgettable climax that seems to commit the author to writing a tertius Plinius Secundus. (I failed Latin 'O' level and it shows doesn't it?)

Pliny doesn’t do it all on his own of course. The deliciously lewd poet Martial isn't with us this time out, but his position as kind-hearted-mischief-maker is taken by the equally historic Roman biographer and Pliny's right hand man, Suetonius. He's sensible, dependable but still manages to get away with an erudite sense of inappropriate fun that hopefully cheered Pliny as much as it does us. (Goodness knows the Governor could do with some sunshine in his life!)

The sense of time and place is such that we automatically fall into step, although automatically judging the past by today's standards. We know we shouldn’t but even presented with the attitude of goody-goody Pliny's thoughts on running a household and wife-control, it's difficult not to side with Calpurnia even fleetingly.

This is a wonderful read whether you prefer murder mystery or hist fict being so heavily textured and well-packed that I have a feeling one read is just not going to be enough. (If I can turn the pages while my fingers are crossed for that sequel!)

If you've enjoyed this then you owe yourself the treat that is the first Plinius Secondus novel. If you've already read it, then we also heartily recommend Hannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane for that continuing Roman vibe.

Buy The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.

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