The Bull Slayer
A Plinius Secundus Mystery by Bruce Macbain
Review: Just days after Plinius "Pliny" Secundus arrives in Bithynia-Pontus as its new Governor, the former man in charge of the region, Marcus Vibius Balbus, its Fiscal Procurator, is found murdered in The Bull Slayer, the second mystery in this series set in early 2nd century (present day) Turkey by Bruce Macbain.
Pliny has been sent by Emperor Trajan to investigate this fiscally mismanaged sector of the Roman Empire. His mission is to sort out where the money has gone — obviously not into infrastructure, as was intended — and bring a measure of security to an area that seems increasingly hostile to Roman occupation. The discovery of Balbus's body complicates matters, as he was widely respected by the Greek aristocracy, which maintains vast estates there. Pliny manages to pass off Balbus's death as an accident, but it isn't long before he uncovers a connection between the Procurator and funds missing from the treasury. A second murder — this one impossible to pass off as anything but — of the brother of a banker suggests to Pliny that a close knit group of men are closing ranks … but for what purpose, and to what end, is not clear.
The Bull Slayer is an oddly mismatched combination of a murder mystery and a melodramatic family saga. The former develops as a well-constructed, historically rich tale of embezzlement, money laundering, secret initiations, and, of course, murder. The latter is better suited as a subplot for a modern daytime soap opera. Pliny has his hands full, to be sure, but he is hardly neglectful of his wife, Calpurnia, who he affectionately calls "Purnia". It isn't at all clear what the point is of having Calpurnia fall for a Greekling, as the locals are condescendingly referred to, and to have the ups and downs of this illicit — and really quite tiresome — romance drawn out for so very long. (In fact, this narrative arc probably takes up less than a third of the overall book, but feels so very much longer. And it does play into what may be a a subplot for the next book in this series, as the ending here is a bit of a cliffhanger.) Setting aside this element, the murder mystery itself is really quite well done, and clearly illustrates that not much has changed in the nearly 2000 years since the time of this story, as elaborate schemes are created to cover up the crimes associated with human greed.
Acknowledgment: Poisoned Pen Press provided an eARC of The Bull Slayer for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Bull Slayer: Turkey
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The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain — A Plinius Secundus Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: March 2013
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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