Macbain, Bruce - 'The Bull Slayer'
Gaius Plinius Secundus - known to his friends as Pliny - has been appointed Governor of the province of Bithynia. The Emperor Trajan has total faith in Pliny that he will restore order - both financial and security on this province which has an importance beyond its size in the Emperor's plans for invasion.
Pliny finds the Treasury in chaos with the local Greek officials defying and delaying him at every turn. Pliny and his beloved young wife, Calpurnia, and their trusted servants are living in the derelict palace while Balbus, the Fiscal Procurator, lives in great luxury on his modern well appointed estate with his wife Fabia and his only son - who is afflicted with the sacred disease.
Pliny knows that taxes are being wasted through unfinished and derelict building projects and determines to find whose pockets the money is lining. The native population hold the Romans to blame but Pliny suspects that local wealthy Greek merchants are in league with certain high ranking Roman officials but cannot find the evidence to prove it.
When Balbus is found murdered and his accountant, Silvanus, goes missing together with a substantial amount of silver, Pliny and his trusted group struggle to find the truth behind a web of lies and misinformation. Meanwhile Calpurnia meets a handsome young Greek and much to her dismay finds herself seduced by his flattery and interest. The mysterious Pancrates, a soothsayer who holds great power over the populace, both Greek and Roman, has foretold the meeting. He knows many secrets but how could he know that Calpurnia would not hold her vows to Pliny sacred? Added to this, a hidden, forbidden cult has grown strong and numbers many powerful men amongst its members. Who is the Sun Runner, the man who holds the power over life and death?
This is the second outing of Pliny, his family and friends. ROMAN GAMES introduced readers to them, and this story is set fourteen years on. The author is obviously an expert in the history, myths and legends of the period and manages to weave both accepted fact - many from Pliny the Younger's actual letters which have survived, and the popular myths and legends that are well known, into a credible, enjoyable story. I hope that a third story is planned - I would like to known what happens to Pliny and his family. If you like Lindsey Davies, you should enjoy this although it's not humorous like the Falco series. Recommended as a good read.
Susan White, England