D.L. Johnstone


"...the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life"


Set in first century Alexandria, the story begins with Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, a recently prosperous Roman man of business, looking around the wreckage of his life as his debtors clear his house and belongings, and his wife and beloved son are packing to return to Rome to leave him to his fate.

The man who caused this reversal of fortunes is assumed to be dead. Aculeo's ruin has also meant the ruin of many of his business partners and contacts, making him very unpopular with his former friends. As Aculeo struggles to find out how he comes to be in this situation, mysterious deaths seem to follow him. Something sinister is happening which is linked to him.

Aculeo, along with some interesting accomplices, piece together the facts that emerge and the clever plot culminates in a surprising end.

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I loved this book. The history was fascinating and well researched, the characters were engaging and often funny, the plot was intricate and well crafted. In particular I enjoyed the dialogue. Graffiti seen at well-preserved Roman sites such as Pompey and the Forum in Rome show that ordinary people of the time were not so different to those of today. There is an immediate connection that links us to the past when we read everyday comments that could have been scrawled a few days ago instead of centuries earlier. D L Johnstone has caught the spirit of the banter and I think this helps to bring the story to life. There are some interesting characters. I particularly liked the relationship that developed between Aculeo and Sekhet, the Egyptian healer. The glossary of Roman and Egyptian words was very helpful as there were some important nuances that I might have missed without it. Also, when the characters have unfamiliar names the Dramatis Personae is always useful. As Aculeo moves through the city, the atmosphere and energy of Alexandria is vividly described. The historical facts about the city are there, but the power of description and particularly the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life.

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