Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films
When the body of Sextus Verpa, a notorious senatorial informer and libertine, is found stabbed to death in his bedroom, his slaves are suspected. Pliny is ordered by the emperor Domitian to investigate.
However, the Ludi Romani, the Roman Games, have just begun and for the next fifteen days, the law courts are in recess. If Pliny cannot identify the murderer in that time, Verpa's entire slave household will be burnt alive in the arena. Pliny, a very respectable young senator and lawyer, teams up with Martial, a starving author of bawdy verses and denizen of the Roman demimonde.
Pooling their respective talents, they unravel a plot that involves Jewish and Christian 'atheists,' exotic Egyptian cultists, and a missing horoscope that forecasts the emperor's death. Their investigation leads them into the heart of the palace, where no one is safe from the paranoid emperor. As the deadline approaches, Pliny struggles with the painful dilemma of a good man who is forced to serve a brutal regime.
One feels bound to point out that MacBain is not the first author to use Pliny the Younger as their main protagonist. Albert A Bell Jnr has also done so in a number of books the first being All Roads Lead to Murder. Roman Games comes under the list for me as one of those books that I enjoyed and found intriguing. Intriguing because I would like to see how things progress over his next couple of books.
Roman Games provides a detailed insight into a period of imperial Rome known for its opulence and decadence. It is well written and the author clearly loves this period of history. There is certainly a sense of place and the characterisation is good. I can only hope that it can be maintained. Bruce MacBain is a welcome addition to the coterie of writers that write about Rome, but he has a hard road to follow. Roman Games is certainly a book to be read by lovers of this period.