The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits - Mike Ashley (Ed.)

The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits
Mike Ashley (Editor)
Robinson Publishers
ISBN: 1841196851 (Amazon link)

I don't suppose there's much point in telling you what this book is about? No, with that title you know what you're getting up front, which is a collection of 20 short stories, mostly murder mysteries, set sometime in the history of the Roman world.

In particular I wanted to read the novella by Steven Saylor, one of my favourite authors. I'm eagerly awaiting his next book, The Judgement of Caesar, which is due out in June, but I wasn't so impressed with his entry in this collection, A Gladiator Dies Only Once. There was a little too much, "As you know Bob..." between the characters, or between Gordianus and the reader, and while the plot resolution was cute, it wasn't very satisfying. Still one of the better stories in here though.

Also of note was The Will, by John Maddox Roberts. It took me a few books to really get into his SPQR series, but I thought this was a excellent story. I've not read anything by Michael Jecks before, but his earthy depiction of legionary life make The Hostage To Fortune a great read. By contrast, Simon Scarrow's HeadsYou Lose was decent enough, but like his novels, I found it lacked that extra something that would elevate him from the crowd. Rosemary Rowe's novels are reliably enjoyable Roman crime fare, if lacking the extra sparkle of Saylor, and her Caveat Emptor is a solid story here. I'm looking forward to her latest novel, The Ghosts of Glevum, which is just published and is, I think, her first in hardback.

I've been eyeing Marilyn Todd's I, Claudia series, but if Honey Moon is typical of her novels, I'm not putting her onto the 'Buy' list. It was a satisfying enough short, but her brash, trashy style didn't do much for me. Another author whose historical I've not tried is Tom Holt. I am not a fan of his humorous SF, but I rather enjoyed Never Forget here and might be persuaded to give his historical books a try, they do seem to get good reviews.

Another SF author in this collection is Darrel Schweitzer, though after some superb early novels - The Shattered Goddess and The Mask of the Sorcerer - he seems to have disappeared into the print-on-demand fringes of publishing. His Some Unpublished Correspondence of the Younger Pliny was effective, but I'd hoped for more. Perhaps the epistolary style of the story restricted his writing options.

Overall, this is a strong collection if you're into detectives in togas. Recommended.

Posted: Sat - March 6, 2004 at 11:39 PM