Blake, Richard - 'Conspiracies of Rome'
Aelric is a young Briton training to be a priest when he is obliged to leave England in October of AD 608, because he has made a girl pregnant. The girl's father is very angry. His superior, Maximin, says that he will take him to Rome where he can confess his sins and seek forgiveness. Along the way to Rome the two are attacked by bandits, whom Aelric kills. They then discover their two deceased attackers were carrying a lot of stolen gold which they keep, together with some correspondence and a holy relic.
When they reach Rome, they use some of the gold to buy hand-made quality clothes and to rent more luxurious accommodation than they would have got normally. Aelric has never been to such a large city as Rome before and he quickly makes friends with a nobleman named Lucius. Lucius shows him around and that night takes him to a secret service at the Colosseum which worships the banned pagan gods that existed before Christianity came.
Whilst away, Aelric's priestly companion Maximin is savagely murdered. The young Briton is terribly distressed and vows to avenge the murder. Lucius helps him question witnesses and examine statements and check all of Maximin's movements before he died.
The two adventurers have some very violent encounters and some fairly shocking ones also. The shock though is tempered with some earthy humour. I found the author's writing style reminded me of Simon Scarrow's "Under The Eagle" books although of course, this author is writing of a period 500 years later.
I had guessed who the murderer was half-way through the book but it was still very entertaining reading the plotting and machinations of the various characters.
CONSPIRACIES OF ROME was one of the most atmospheric historical novels I've read in years and I'm sure that this should easily be one of my best reads of 2009. A very impressive first novel which I enjoyed very much and I look forward to reading further novels by this excellent new author.
Terry Halligan, England