I, Claudius it’s not. Still, Quinn handles Imperial Rome with panache.

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EMPRESS OF THE SEVEN HILLS

The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect.

Ex-gladiator Vix, short for Vercingetorix (after Julius Caesar’s Gallic nemesis), has just returned to Rome. His parents, in the Roman equivalent of a witness-protection program for their role in the assassination of tyrannical Emperor Domitian, have retired to Britannia, where they have a villa and a garden. Vix seeks out the protection of his parents’ protector and co-conspirator, Senator Norbanus. Hired as a guard, Vix is enticed into the bed of Norbanus’ daughter Sabina, who at 18 has still not chosen a husband. After Sabina marries Hadrian, ward of the current Emperor Trajan, Vix joins the Tenth Legion and is off to Germania. When Hadrian and Trajan arrive to put down a barbarian rebellion, Sabina tags along, and is soon marching with the legions herself. Since Hadrian is preoccupied with male lovers, spirited Sabina is free to share the campfire and cot of Vix, forging convivial friendships with his comrades, including her former suitor Titus, a reluctant military tribune. Vix hopes to advance through the ranks despite his plebian status, but his only chance of making Centurion is to distinguish himself in battle: this he does by finding the weak spot of a fortress under siege, and killing the barbarian king. Promoted to aquilifer (bearer of the legion’s eagle standard), Vix’s joy is short-lived: His treasonous affair with Sabina is very nearly exposed. Hadrian’s meddling mentoress, the Empress Plotina, convinces Hadrian to curtail his wife's freedoms. Years later, Vix, on the verge of attaining his dream, Centurion-hood, returns to Rome, where Sabina remains under tight surveillance by Hadrian and the Empress. Titus advises Vix to steer clear, particularly if he wants to join Trajan’s next campaign of conquest in Parthia. However, soon Sabina, Vix and Titus dare to flout Hadrian, who, if Plotina’s schemes bear fruit, will occupy the imperial throne (and Quinn’s next book).

I, Claudius it’s not. Still, Quinn handles Imperial Rome with panache.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-425-24202-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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