Though far from the Christian Rome of Ben-Hur or the classic one of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this Roman holiday offers a...

THE NIGHT WATCH

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: July 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475127515

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

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Dirk Cussler carries on what his father started in a series that never gets old.

CLIVE CUSSLER'S THE DEVIL'S SEA

In the 26th of the lively Dirk Pitt Adventures, the family finds trouble on the high seas and in the high mountains.

Trouble comes looking for Dirk Pitt and his children, Dirk and Summer, in the strangest and most entertaining ways. (Mom is in Congress and misses all the fun.) Fans know that the elder Pitt is Director of NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, and that he’s not one to “sail a desk.” So they’re in the seas near the Philippines on a research project when they come across a sunken ship and the remnants of a Chinese rocket. The Chinese are upset that their secret Mach-25 rocket has failed once again. Then the area begins to get hit with unexplained tsunamis while Dirk Senior and his colleague Al Giordino explore the depths in Stingray, their submersible. The plot splits off when Dad asks son and daughter to fly to Taiwan to return a large stone antiquity they find in an aircraft that had disappeared in 1963. A Taiwanese museum official recognized it as the Nechung Idol from Tibet, so the siblings head to northern India. Dad rescues a woman from drowning and gets embroiled in a nasty conflict involving her father, a hijacked ship, and guys with guns and nefarious intentions. Meanwhile, young Dirk and Summer wind up in the Himalayas as they try to take the precious stone to the Dalai Lama. There, they try not to get themselves killed by bullets or hypothermia as they stay a step ahead of more villains who want the idol. The Pitts are all great characters—clever, gutsy, and lucky. When he and Giordino find themselves in a heck of a pickle in an area called The Devil’s Sea, Dad Pitt declares a great American truism: “Nothing’s impossible with a little duct tape.” And everything sticks together in the end—the tsunamis, the rocket, the idol. As with all the Dirk Pitt yarns, the action is fast and over-the-top, and the violence is only what’s needed to advance the story.

Dirk Cussler carries on what his father started in a series that never gets old.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-41964-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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