In the second of prolific Doherty’s new series set in ancient Greece (The House of Death, 2001), Alexander the Great, that martial and mercurial genius—to apply the Roman names for two of Alexander’s gods—occupies Ephesus, a wealthy Greek city controlled by Persia through the cooperation of the city’s ruling Oligarchs. Now those citizens are paying for their treachery, as tribunals run by the rival Democratic faction and, overseen by Alexander’s troops, systematically execute their old enemies. Alexander permits but limits this vengeance because he needs a stable Ephesus ruled by a party loyal to him alone. But Persia, in the person of Darius III’s spymaster Lord Mithra, has not given up on Ephesus. Mithra’s employee, a spy and assassin known as the Centaur, still roams Ephesus, but with a new job: to thwart Alexander. When a group of the Oligarchs takes refuge in the Temple of Hercules, Alexander, promising them protection, unwittingly presents the Centaur with a perfect opportunity for chaos. Someone mysteriously enters the Temple through a set of sealed doors, clubs the refugees to death, and, leaving a trail suggesting a Centaur’s hoofprints, apparently walks, or trots, over hot coals to steal a vial of sacred Hydra’s blood. An embarrassed Alexander orders his friend and physician Telamon, an Aristotelian reasoner who no more believes in Centaurs than he does in Hercules, to investigate.
An intriguing and suspenseful locked-room mystery rounded out by military strategy, espionage, and buried treasure.