Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"The Bull Slayer"

Bruce Macbain holds degrees in classical studies and ancient history, with a specialty in Greece and Rome. Upon retirement a few years ago, he decided to give up writing scholarly monographs which almost no one read, and turn to the more congenial realm of fiction. His debut mystery, Roman Games, set in first century AD Rome, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2010. His second novel, The Bull Slayer, comes out this March. Macbain is also a book reviewer for the Historical Novels Review.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest mystery, The Bull Slayer, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 69 of The Bull Slayer is exactly the page on which the sleuth gets his first break in the case. Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger) has just been appointed governor of Bithynia, a Roman province in Asia Minor which is riddled with corruption and on the brink of rebellion. No sooner has Pliny arrived in the capital city than a the Fiscal Procurator (a universally loathed tax collector), vanishes without a trace. Neither the man’s wife nor his second-in-command will admit to having any idea what could have happened to him. As the days go by, tensions rise and Pliny is at a loss. And then one morning, as he and his staff are mulling over their lack of progress, there is a disturbance in the corridor outside Pliny’s office and a provincial citizen forces his way in.
The man straightened his clothes, took a breath to calm himself, and introduced himself as Isidorus, a dealer in fine silks and brocades. He had gone yesterday to the Street of the Leather Workers, he explained, to shop for a saddle and bridle, not your ordinary stuff but something expensive, a birthday present for his son-in-law, who was quite a gentleman and owned a horse. And he was in one shop, examining what was on offer, and quite a respectable place, the owner was known to him and not a dealer in stolen goods either, no certainly not. But there was a very handsome saddle for sale with matching bridle, all ornamented with turquoises and onyxes, and an embroidered saddle cloth with it, top quality, make no mistake, he knew quality when he saw it, and the thing of it was, you see, that it looked familiar, he knew he had seen that saddle somewhere before, and then it came to him—just like that!—perhaps some god whispered it in his ear, who could say? But he was dead certain that it was the procurator’s saddle, no question about it, that gentleman rode down his street every day on his way to the treasury, which is just past the Street of the Cloth Merchants, don’t you see?

Isidorus stopped and looked around him in alarm. They were all on their feet, Nymphidius’ fingers dug into his shoulder.

“Here now,” he squeaked, “no call for that!”

“Where,” Pliny brought his face close and spoke softly, “did this merchant get the saddle?”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to tell your honors. A couple of peasants sold him the stuff. His wife is from their village, don’t you see, so they thought he’d give ’em a good price.”

“And where is this village?”

“He can tell you. He’s just outside. He doesn’t want any trouble.”
This information will lead Pliny to the procurator’s decomposing corpse, buried in a shallow grave deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. But what brought him there? And who of the many people who hated him had managed to kill him?
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce Macbain's website.

--Marshal Zeringue