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Tuesday 29 April 2014

‘The Bull Slayer’ by Bruce MacBain

Published by Head of Zeus,
8 July 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-7818-5079-4

In 109 AD Pliny the Younger has just arrived as Governor of Bithynia, appointed to this position by Emperor Trajan. The task is onerous since Bithynia is known as a cesspit of sedition, full of corruption and with a Greek population that hates the Romans who now rule.

The death of Balbus, a rich Roman citizen, on a desolate hillside is regarded as murder - he has a broken neck and crushed vertebrae - but, strangely, his expensive clothing and rings have not been taken. The
likelihood that he rode with a companion to this spot is another peculiar fact. Pliny and his household of secretary, lictors, doctor and slaves must investigate. Pliny's wife, Calpurnia, and her maid, Ione, must manage life surrounded by the idle and inquisitive wives of local officials so it is probably not surprising that Calpurnia becomes withdrawn and unhappy. Pliny wonders at the cause of her depression and has her bled to balance her humours. But perhaps there is more to this?

The presence of various religious groups adds to the problems with earthquakes offering even more complications to the mix. The story really winds around as Pliny tries to make sense of events while trying also to deal with the endemic corruption. The knowledge of the Roman world at this time shown by Bruce Macbain is impressive but he is a Classics and Ancient History graduate.
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer
Bruce Macbain has published one previous book in this series - RomanGames.

Bruce MacBain was born in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of a chorus girl and a public relations man—a fact which had surprisingly little effect on his future calling. As a child, he squandered whole days (when other boys were at the playground working on their jump shot) in reading science fiction and history. Greek and Roman history held a special fascination for him and this led eventually to acquiring a master's degree in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Ancient History. As an assistant professor of Classics, he taught courses in Late Antiquity and Roman religion—which is a particular interest of his—and published a few impenetrable scholarly monographs, which almost no one read. He eventually left academe and turned to teaching English as a second language, a field he was trained in while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Borneo in the 60s.  Macbain has lately turned to writing historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, featuring the senatorial letter-writer Pliny the Younger as his protagonist, assisted by other literary figures such as the poet Martial and the biographer Suetonius.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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