"Be sure to read this steamy Southern noir in the AC."– Kirkus Reviews
Laing’s novel shows a side of the Roman Empire that’s downright frightening.
During the reign of Emperor Caracalla, perhaps best known for his baths, Prefect Gallus Florio Secundus is the night watchman of Rome, ever on the alert for the fires that threaten to destroy the city. But fire isn’t the only problem: Gallus is also searching for the madman—or woman—who is murdering gladiators, leaving behind their bodies minus their arms or legs, just as someone murdered women to harvest their parts several years before. Senator Quintus Orata seems only to want to help keep the peace, so why has he paid Lucretia, a beautiful prostitute, to spy on Gallus? And why are the Sun and the Moon, members of Rome’s Day Watch, following Gallus about the city, determined to trip him up? Will Gallus find the murderer before he himself becomes a victim? Gallus, a bit of a Roman Kolchak: The Night Stalker, isn’t scared off by the macabre, which is a lucky thing, since that’s exactly what he finds. His stalwart personality makes him a strong hero, though he disappears from the scene from time to time to be replaced by Palpitus, also known as the Little Death, a gladiator with a side story that is hard to follow. The ghoulishly fun tale suffers from a lack of background information and too much modern verbiage. Youths in Ancient Rome weren’t referred to as teens, and readers will be jarred from the time and place when Gallus calls someone “the silent type” and spouts the Middle English “verily,” instead of something a little more Latin. The female characters are underdone; Lucretia is a typical whore with a heart of gold, and Julia the curse-maker and her ancient daughter never really come to life. There are no red herrings here; the villain is apparent from the book’s first chapter, but readers willing to suspend disbelief and unbothered by a lot of bloody goings-on will be entertained, if not enthralled.
Though far from the Christian Rome of Ben-Hur or the classic one of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this Roman holiday offers a picture of the world of the gladiators readers will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
|Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011|
|Page count: 264pp|
Tragedy befalls a small town in the 1950s Deep South when the Klu Klux Klan’s arrival coincides with an unraveling of long-held family secrets.
A suicide gunshot rattles the humid air in this bleak but often beautifully crafted tale of cultural strife in the Southern town of Melby. During one particularly sweltering summer, the Sayre family tries to cope with the stifling heat. Since the childhood death of his brother, farmer John Sayre has held a terrible secret, one that comes to bear on his marriage, his status in town and his relationship with his young son, Timothy. John’s inner demons lead him into an affair with college-educated Cicada Anderson, whose family joined the African-American exodus from a nearby town tormented by the Klan. At the same time, Tim, aka Buckshot, finds the body of a lynched man. While the lovers carry on late-night trysts, Frances Sayre fears her husband has taken up with the Klan, until she discovers what she takes to be a love letter. Her discovery, Buckshot’s secretiveness and the increasing boldness of the town’s bigots and its reprehensible minister all sit heavy in the uneasy, oppressive heat. The cicadas incessantly hum in ominous chorus. Everyone is being watched: suspicious townsmen spy John and Cicada, the gravedigger sees visitors to the lynched man’s grave, the mockingbirds eye the old family cat in the last hours of its life. The town’s animals, wild or domesticated, play as big a part as any of the well-drawn characters in the tragedy. Nature’s cruelty—and occasionally, its beauty—foreshadow and echo the townspeople’s wicked acts. Only beautiful Cicada remains a mystery. Like the female cicada, she causes the frenzied men to buzz and drone around her in hopes of attracting her bewitching affection.
Be sure to read this steamy Southern noir in the A/C.