There’s action a-plenty in Rome’s Executioner (Vespasian II), on and off the pitch. Ranging from the outskirts of the Roman empire in Dacia in AD 30, to the very centre of power and those who hold it or want it, in the eternal city itself. From full-on combat at the point of a sword to daggers in the back in the dark of Roman side-streets and back alleys. All in all, just what you want to find in a book set in Roman times. However (the good sort) what elevates this one above – the most of – its competition, is the sparkle, invention and wit Robert Fabbri imbues his characters and their stories with. It manages to hold my interest and rapt attention, even in the (totally necessary) political skullduggery set-pieces back in Rome. No mean achievement that. Robert Fabbri really does seem to hit the right balance between intrigue, politicking and action in this series and Vespasian himself, is developing into a very interesting character indeed.
Along with the battles and brawls, intrigue and dirty-dickery, there are also interesting comments on the state of Roman ‘civilisation’ and the intricacy of its politics woven subtly all the way through. As well as thoughts on those pre-Christian festivals that just so happened to take place at the end of a year, involve the giving of gifts and celebrating the birth of a god…To compare it with another long-running Roman series, the ‘Empire’ books of Anthony Riches (of which I’ve just passed #7), I’d have to say it comes out easily on top. Better written and plotted, even after only having read two of them, that’s clear (though to be fair The Emperor’s Knives does show a lot more ambition on Riches’ side than has previously been evident). However, some things are clearly taken as read, by writers of books set in the Roman period – Greeks are obviously all homosexual. Here, as a character called Magnus says, “And it’ll be sometime before he can chew on a decent Roman sausage again; being Greek, he’s partial to sausage, if you take my meaning?” Seems Robert Fabbri’s Romans share much the same opinions of Greeks as Anthony Riches’ boys over in Britannia.
And, though in a different way to the Empire series, you’re going to need a strong stomach while reading Rome’s Executioner. There, it’s mostly about what happens on the battlefield, but Rome’s Executioner is warts and all Roman depravity. Prepare to have your mind – and stomach – tied up in knots trying to follow all the ins and outs of who is trying to stab who in the back trying to out – or second – guess an aged Emperor who has clearly gone stark staring, raving, yip-yip, barking at the moon mad and can – and does – do whatever his skittish mind takes a fancy to. As you would.
As with a lot of the series these days (does no one ever write one-offs any more?), I find myself asking: “do I need to have read #1, Steve?” Here, I’d say maybe not really, but it will help increase the enjoyment. All I thought was that the relationship between Vespasian and his brother Sabinus, does perhaps need a glance at #1, otherwise, you can certainly begin here, no problem.
So, and despite a(n interesting) new twist on the eyebrow raising device, so beloved of Roman period writers, here we have Secundus raising a ‘monobrow,’ I really enjoyed the book and rate it very highly indeed. In my view, the Vespasian series along with Douglas Jackson’s …of Rome series are the best of the many Roman series I’ve read. Vespasian II is up on the podium of the top three Roman novels I’ve read so far. In fact, it will have to be the best, most convincing, most captivating Roman-period book I’ve read since The Lion and the Lamb. I’ll admit, I actually found myself holding my breath at one point. (P117) and I’ll go along with another of the book’s characters’ comments that “This is more fun than arse-licking back in Rome…” Then, as now, I guess. Go away and start this series now, if you haven’t already, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Well, there’s a thing. I’m wondering if I haven’t read Library of The Dead by Mr Cooper and thinking not. I know I have read Secret of The Seventh Son, when it turned out ‘Library’ and ’Seventh Son’ are one and the same. Somewhere along the line, the title got changed. In which direction, I can’t say. Though a guess would be that Library of The Dead is the up-dated title, as it were. Anyway, that wasn’t half bad and introduced us to Cooper’s hero, one Will Piper. Book of Souls finds us again in Mr Piper’s company, in what is a really rather splendid sequel to the aforementioned ’Seventh Son’ (or ‘Library’).
He has to spend a fair bit of space at the start explaining the set-up, for those who may not have read the first one. A fair bit of space because there’s both a fair bit that needs explaining, but maybe he also needs a fair bit of space, because he needs to go into some detail, as the set-up, on the surface, is rather unbelievable. It will help if you’ve read what we experts are calling ‘Will Piper 1,’ but I should think you’d manage alright without having done so.
So, that set-up, then? Look away if it begins to get a little like shit from China – far-fetched: Some time, way back in the mists of history, the seventh son, of a seventh son, on the seventh day…in the year 777, etc, was born. Was seen as being a little what some nowadays might euphemistically call ’special.’ He began writing dates, lots of them, non-stop, in many different languages. These dates turn out to be births and deaths from that date onwards. Somehow or other, he impregnates a girl, has another son, who also starts writing, monks take over, years pass, more boys, more dates, hundreds of books filled, huge library built underground at abbey on Isle of Wight. Suddenly stop at a date in the future, forgotten when, but soon-ish, no idea why. During Second World War, books discovered, over to USA, stored in Area 51 (is it?) Catalogued, used for guessing when USA can take advantage of catastrophe (etc). Men turn up at Piper’s door, as he used to work at hush-hush establishment and they suspect, rightly, he has stolen a copy of the database. The very rich (very rich) one of the men, is on the list, with a death date in a couple of days. Wants to find out something or other, has discovered one book is missing from library, is for sale at auction house in London. They want to buy it. As does CIA, or NSA, or super secret intelligence agency. Chaos ensues.
For all that, it fairly races along in the early stages and is proves quite a gripping read. That is even despite the fact that the bad guy – even though the bad guys/ruthless agent is in-situ, front row of the auction, presumably with more than enough funds available to out-bid on the book, thanks to the imperative nature of the Govt’s desire to get the book back – gets out bid by our good guys. On the phone. From Piper’s home in New York. How did THAT happen?! Ok, so the bad boys lose the auction. Then play nice guys, letting some young office boy take the book they wanted so bad, over to New York. Why didn’t they just steal it off him, in London – or New York? No, they wanted to ‘see who is behind it’, who out-bid them. A bit thin as they’ve got evidence it is Piper and have bugged his phone, etc. But they wouldn’t have needed to do that if they had just taken the book. But then they wouldn’t have been able to get the link to Will Piper, you see. The ‘office boy’ turns out to be a British Intelligence operative, but not a very good one as he is soon overpowered on his arrival in New York. But not like you and I would have planned it, i.e. BEFORE he delivered the book, no, they wait until after.
From this uncertain start, it turns towards being a treasure hunt. After clues to something or other are found in the back page of the ‘missing’ volume. This of course means he can incorporate flashbacks in a slightly different way to most books’ (of this kind) flashbacks. Not badly done at all. And, of course, it allows him to set the action not only in the country of my birth, but the county, Worcestershire. And not far from where I was born as well. All good.
Well, despite having veered close to preposterous, its preposterousness actually reads a lot more convincingly preposterous, than several others I’ve read of this ilk, of which, a few spring immediately to mind – ‘The Rule of Four,’ for example.
Nevermind. It is written in a good, flowing, energetic way, so that my brain can forgive him (nearly) all the above, while my eyeballs rush headlong into the next, on later reflection, unlikely situation. It is actually really rather difficult to put down, as they say. It kind of loses its way a little towards the end, several things happening and it doesn’t feel like the same sense of purpose there was at the start or in the middle. The end does have several ends, as I suppose it has to, given the premise. But my explanation for why…well, you know, is the more obvious one, easily figure outable if you think logically about it.
Actually, if you don’t try thinking too much about the plot, you’ll probably enjoy the book just fine.
Blimey! That took a long time. A long time finishing and a long time starting to do anything. When I was (hurrah!) done, all I could think was- it came, it was there and now it’s gone again. And it felt to like it got longer each time I picked it up.
I really couldn’t see what the point of the book was. I couldn’t see what the aim of the book or the story was. Usually it’s fairly clear from the start, or from the blurb on the inside, or the back, so you’re in the frame of mind to measure it against that premise. For good or bad, I read this on the iPad and iPhone, without the blurb, so I just went straight in. And it didn’t capture me. I didn’t find myself caring about any of the characters. Not him the main man, the name escapes me, not Nike…what’sit, not the Caliph or any of them. My eye and mind skated around the book in search of something to get a grip on. Without finding anything.
It seems to be set in the First Crusade, with, what might be a Greek envoy from the Holy Roman Emperor, or someone or somewhere, on tour in the Middle East of the 11th Century, ending up going here and there and finally taking part in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.
It was s a new style on me. One that sags for the first third, then picks up. And then doesn’t.
But, if nothing else, it wins this years most ridiculous, no one anywhere has ever or would ever – outside of a book – think of this simile : “my soul was trembling like a broken sword.” Do broken swords ’tremble’? Maybe they do.
What is it with novels and people’s soul? I mean, outside books, the church and the odd Deep Purple song, when did you ever hear anyone discuss their soul, with you? Down the pub? At work? I don’t think so. And, of course, the longer ago a book is set, the more a discussion of one’s soul, is taken as being both ‘what they got up to’ and an indicator of the story being ‘set a long time ago.’ He relies on us believing, like he clearly does, that a person’s soul is an important indicator of their character, their suffering or their, well…we’re obviously supposed to read it as some deep, probably meaningful, insight, the mere mention of someone’s ‘soul.’ Has your soul ever felt ‘twisted,’ by the way? Have you ever ripped something from ‘the very depths’ of your soul? Has your boss ever said that he/she didn’t want you to go to somewhere, Jerusalem in the First Crusade, for example? THAT would feel like he/she had ‘ripped out part of (your) soul.’ (though, watch out, as Jerusalem is a ‘loathsome city’ that will wrap itself ‘tight around (your) soul’, if you’re not careful). Didn’t know that? It was obviously possible back then. Even common, by the looks. Something modern life has left us unable to feel, clearly. Peter Bartholomew (the madman who tried to lead the Crusade, but wasn’t born high enough), on the other hand, “plucked a string that resonated in all (their) souls.” Just think what we’re missing nowadays!
There’s page after page of people, prophets, priests, recounting, reciting and answering straightforward ‘yes’ ‘no’ questions, with paragraphs, pages, yards, hours of religious ‘all shall be revealed to those who can see’- type nonsense babble. Really wearing. Doing nothing, going nowhere. I don’t doubt that this sort of thing used to go on, especially as they thought they were in the ‘End Of Days’ (though more because they wanted to see ‘The Lord Himself,’ than any real, indisputable evidence of His Return) and looked for the signs to fulfil some idiot or others’ prophecy of such. It would, like the book, try the patience of a saint. And I’m no saint.
I’ll giver it two stars ‘cause it was long and he’d clearly spent a lot of time on it.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s one of those that right from the off, makes it very clear that you are, at some point or other, going to be introduced to the murderer. The story never follows the murderer, never tells the story from their point of view – like ‘Dead Men’s Dust,’ for instance. So, at some point along the way, you will guess who it is. Before Harry Hole, in my case. I’m not saying I’m specially clever or anything, but I have read enough of this type of book to recognise when I’m being lead up the wrong garden path and so my mind tends to wander off looking for the right one. As yours does. Or, you think ‘well, they’ve not been in it much, so chances are it’s them.’ There’s part of the problem with the book in a way, it is, underneath all the life in Australia, the telling of ancient Aboriginal stories and parables to illuminate the way, the alcoholic Norwegian detective, just another one of ’this type of book.’ Is it better than all of ‘them,’ though? That is the question the hype over him being the ’new Stig Larsson’ would seem to want you to answer with a resounding ‘yes!’ My answer is more of a cautious, on a knife edge ‘maybe.’
I enjoyed reading it, he tries a few tricks and effects with the writing style and presentation and he’s clearly wanting to make some sort of statement about the treatment of the original Australians. But it is, in the end a ‘whodunit’ that tries its best to lead you a merry dance. Though, as you read they are about to trap ‘the murderer’ but know – from the amount of pages (or in my case listening to the audiobook version, the number of hours) left – it can’t be who they, at that point, think it is. Obvious really. And a huge problem for any writer wanting to do that sort of thing, I imagine.
So, a fair bit of the final phase is taken up by the murderer painstakingly explaining to Harry – in reality those of us reading who haven’t figured it out – exactly how they did it. Never a good sign. Always a sign of the author not really being sure he has communicated in the preceding book, what he wanted to do, or not crediting the audience with having figured it out.
I must admit i didn’t find an awful lot to like about Harry Hole as a character. I didn’t think he worked that well with the ‘minor’ characters here. Even his relationship with the girl, felt more than a little strained. In fact, the minor characters were the more interesting. Especially the Aboriginal ones. Maybe that was the intention? But surely, the intention was to make them part of a whole and not to outshine the main character. He felt as cold as a winter’s night in Norway.
So. The start of a trilogy (or more). That you can tell by the pages of ‘tell me something about your past’ conversation between detective and girlfriend. Is it enough to get me buying the next one? Is it enough to get me finding out what the next one is called? Is it enough to get me thinking I would get the most out of it/them by reading them in chronological order? I don’t know. Maybe over the next few weeks it will settle in a bit better than it is settling in right now. Right now, the jury is still out.
Bonus crap! Not in Goodreads review (because I don’t want people to hate me) :
Problem is, he’s an alcoholic. You aren’t very intelligent if you’re an alcoholic. You’re not. Don’t try saying different. Don’t try coming with examples. You aren’t. Think about it. You think getting pissed, regularly, is gonna solve whatever problems you have, or think you have. And, by ‘solve’ you mean ‘hide from.’ You also know that you can’t, not without something of an almighty effort, stay pissed the whole of the time. Not for long, anyway. AND you know that if you stay pissed, OR if you sober up, the problems that caused you to try and escape them through alcohol, will still be there when you sober up, or if you stay pissed. They’ll actually be even worse than they were before, because you haven’t been able to deal with them while you were pissed. And I certainly won’t help you if you’re gonna try and run and hide in a bottle.
So how can I believe he is a super detective, when he is so stupid as to think drinking yourself into a stupor is any kind of a good idea?
Whilst on the one hand I don’t really think there’s enough here to have me off running breathlessly down to the bookshop after #2 in the ‘Harry Hole‘ series, on the other hand, there isn’t anything to put me off getting #2 either, if I should fall over it some time. That’s maybe the problem, for me. I found it all rather so-so. It wasn’t particularly exciting, challenging or thrilling, it certainly wasn’t gruesome – as someone who’d heard about the books asked me if it was.
So why? Why, a Scandinavian writer, set your Scandinavian-type novel (the ‘new Stig Larsson‘ if I remember rightly and it’s not because they both come/came from the same Scandinavian country. Stig Larsson was Swedish, Jo Nesbø is Norwegian, there’s a difference. So the ‘new Stig Larsson‘ tag, must therefore be due to a style of writing, or a style behind the writing), why set it in Australia? Why, in the first book in what was clearly from the start conceived as a series, take an achingly Norwegian detective all the way down to Australia? To throw him and Scandinavian Police practices into some sort of positive relief, when seen against their traditionally rather less up-tight Antipodean colleagues? Not really. The Australian Police come out of it all rather well. Better than they do in Dark City Blue and Out of Exile, which are actually by an Australian author. Is it to compare and contrast HH’s character? Hardly. He actually fits in rather well with his Aussie colleagues (though this too might be a deep commentary on how easy it is for a white person from half a world away to fit in with the authorities in Australia, than it is for the indigenous people, the original Australians – I might be reading too much into it). He quickly starts an effective working relationship with the officer who is assigned (assigns himself, actually) to help him. This may be to show that the more open Norwegian character fined it easier to bond with the Aboriginal people? Or are they both ‘outsiders’ in Australia? Who cares, really, when it’s buried that deep.
His character then? Not really, he doesn’t seem to have any quirks, or special Scandinavian abilities that mean only he could bring the case to a conclusion – apart from falling back into alcoholism…well, more like spending a couple of days rat-arsed (we’ve all done it), at the first sign of things not going completely his way. Then, all we find out about his past, troubled or otherwise, is what he tells to Eva (?) another Scandinavian. In Australia. So we don’t even get an Australian perspective on him “Ya call THAT getting pissed? I’ll show ya getting pissed, cobber!” None of that. He tells another Scandinavian, his Scandinavian background. In Australia. What IS the point of that? He could have stayed up in the ‘frozen north’ (as my mother thinks Denmark, where I live, is) and saved on the jet-lag.
I’m scratching my head to figure out why he felt the need to set this in Australia. Sure, there’s a fair bit of stuff about Aboriginies, their rights (or the lack of), their history under the British/Australians, their culture, their legends (which I struggle to see the point of as their having anything to do with the plot, or solving thereof, is so oblique as to be un-gettable). Maybe I’ll find out if I bother with the next one.
To put it simply; this must surely be the mother and father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle and next-door neighbour of all books about the Kennedy assassination cover up. No doubts about it. If there’s a stone still remaining unturned, bush un-peeked behind, a shopping list uncategorised, it surely ain’t worth peering into or under. If you have even the remotest interest in the killing and the (obvious) cover-up afterwards (and you have a few weeks to set aside to reading this) you need to read this book. I have read many, many books about the assassination of JFK, but I have never read one as thorough as this.
Before you start though, if you’re looking for a description of what happened on the day, you won’t find it here. You might, deep inside, come across a name – or two – for who did the actual trigger-pulling and the killing, but what you will actually find, laid unarguably bare, is the conspiracy behind the events of the day, before and afterwards.
If you’ve seen the film JFK with Kevin Costner as Garrison, Joe Pesci as David Ferrie and Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw, you’ll be pretty familiar with the bones of the book. She says she began writing it as a biography of Jim Garrison, but found she needed to go deeper into his thwarted investigate. There is still a life of Jim Garrison, of sorts, but of course, that life, once he launched the investigation, was totally consumed by it. He does go on, once his case had failed, but he could never escape it.
There can’t be many who don’t think there was a before and after conspiracy. It could well be *laughs* that you believe the Warren Commission. If you believe the Warren Commission, you’re a bigger fool than you’re trying to make me out to be. A commission is an admission of failure, or unwillingness, to get the case to court. It was a way to sweep the whole thing under the carpet. The Warren Commission was set up so the true crime would never get investigated. It beggars belief that the only court case in, for the USA at least, the biggest crime of the twentieth century, was left to a relatively obscure local attorney. And then forced to fail. Then…nothing. How fishy does that sound? No wonder there are conspiracy theorists. Only, once you’ve read this book, they’re not theories – they’re facts.
She proves successfully (for me) that there was a conspiracy. And who, which ‘organisation,’ was behind it. Then how it was covered up. From, amongst others, at least one very surprising source. However, if there is a problem with the book, it is that there are so many names, so many connections, so many FBI agents, CIA agents, ex-CIA agents, CIA agents pretending to be ex-CIA agents, pro-Castro, anti Castro groups, pro-Cuba groups that were actually anti-Cuba groups, anti- Cuba groups that were…well, you get the picture – that they do actually become a little meaningless. Added into that people who seemingly changed sides like they changed their socks, then it’s hard to keep up, make sense of, or form anything other than a general impression of what was going on. You just have to trust that she has control of what she’s trying to do with it all. I can understand why she wants to prove in every way shape and form that she’s on the money (to head off the ‘yeah, but…’ cottage industry of conspiracists), but the hundreds of names, their links and interrelations do tend to lead to a little confusion at best. Not being a Kennedy scholar by profession myself, or about to write a thesis on it, so unable to devote the man-hours and bits of paper with diagrams and lines on them necessary to take all this in – it becomes difficult to continue to take in after a point.
But, after reading such a thorough, unbelievably thorough, account of the evidence, it’s hard to see how anyone could come up with any other kind of scenario, or a name not mentioned and/or discussed here. I’ve got two more JFK assassination books sat on the shelf waiting to be read – I’m wondering now if it’s worth bothering.