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

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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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The most over-the-top of Horowitz’s frantically overplotted whodunits to date—and that’s no mean feat.

MOONFLOWER MURDERS

Susan Ryeland, the book editor who retired to Crete after solving the mind-boggling mysteries of Magpie Murders (2017), is enticed to England to try her hand at another Chinese box of a case.

Eight years ago, the wedding weekend of Cecily Treherne and Aiden MacNeil at Branlow Hall, the high-end Suffolk hotel the bride’s parents owned, was ruined by the murder of Frank Parris, a hotel guest and advertising man who just happened to be passing through. Romanian-born maintenance man Stefan Codrescu was promptly convicted of the crime and has been in prison ever since. But Cecily’s recent disappearance shortly after having told her parents she’d become certain Stefan was innocent drives Lawrence and Pauline Treherne to find Susan in Crete, where they offer her 10,000 pounds to solve the mystery again and better. Susan’s the perfect candidate because she worked closely with late author Alan Conway, whose third novel, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, contained the unspecified evidence that convinced Cecily that Detective Superintendent Richard Locke, now DCS Locke, had made a mistake. Checking into Branlow Hall and interviewing Cecily’s hostile sister, Lisa, and several hotel staffers who were on the scene eight years ago tells Susan all too little. So she turns to Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, whose unabridged reproduction occupies the middle third of Horowitz’s novel, and finds that it offers all too much in the way of possible clues, red herrings, analogies, anagrams, and easter eggs. The novel within a novel is so extensive and absorbing on its own, in fact, that all but the brainiest armchair detectives are likely to find it a serious distraction from the mystery to which it’s supposed to offer the key.

The most over-the-top of Horowitz’s frantically overplotted whodunits to date—and that’s no mean feat.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06295-545-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

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IF IT BLEEDS

The master of supernatural disaster returns with four horror-laced novellas.

The protagonist of the title story, Holly Gibney, is by King’s own admission one of his most beloved characters, a “quirky walk-on” who quickly found herself at the center of some very unpleasant goings-on in End of Watch, Mr. Mercedes, and The Outsider. The insect-licious proceedings of the last are revisited, most yuckily, while some of King’s favorite conceits turn up: What happens if the dead are never really dead but instead show up generation after generation, occupying different bodies but most certainly exercising their same old mean-spirited voodoo? It won’t please TV journalists to know that the shape-shifting bad guys in that title story just happen to be on-the-ground reporters who turn up at very ugly disasters—and even cause them, albeit many decades apart. Think Jack Torrance in that photo at the end of The Shining, and you’ve got the general idea. “Only a coincidence, Holly thinks, but a chill shivers through her just the same,” King writes, “and once again she thinks of how there may be forces in this world moving people as they will, like men (and women) on a chessboard.” In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, Rat is one of those meta-referential things King enjoys: There are the usual hallucinatory doings, a destiny-altering rodent, and of course a writer protagonist who makes a deal with the devil for success that he thinks will outsmart the fates. No such luck, of course. Perhaps the most troubling story is the first, which may cause iPhone owners to rethink their purchases. King has gone a far piece from the killer clowns and vampires of old, with his monsters and monstrosities taking on far more quotidian forms—which makes them all the scarier.

Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

Pub Date: April 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3797-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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