(2013) Mark Charan Newton, Macmillan, £16.99, hrdbk, 429pp, ISBN 978-0-230-76682-2
If you enjoy Agatha Christie, Sword and Sandal epics, medieval mysteries or fantasy romps, or indeed any combination of the above, you’ll enjoy this book. As it ticks several of my boxes, you can count me in.
Lucan Drakenfeld is an Officer of the Sun Chamber who is assigned to replace his dead father in the city of Tyrum. Barely over the threshold, he has to take on the biggest case of his career so far (Officers of the Sun Chamber being some sort of court official / detective), the murder of the King’s sister. Accompanied by Leana, his enigmatic companion, he settles his father’s debts, investigates a number of seemingly minor crimes, re-ignites an affair with an old flame (do people still use that phrase?) and is drawn deeper into a plot which could potentially change the political complexion of the world as he knows it.
I mentioned Agatha Christie earlier because of a very obviously borrowed Golden Age of Detective novels plotline device, the locked room mystery (or as the chapter is called, ‘The Locked-Temple Murder’), and medieval mysteries because there is a strong similarity to the novels of C. J. Samson (e.g. Dissolution). But the strongest similarity is to the books of Lindsay Davis, whose detective novels are set in Ancient Rome. There is the equivalent of a chariot race, and the all-conquering general who attempts to strong-arm his way into politics could be Brutus or Coriolanus. The background religious world of little gods to be sacrificed to or appeased was also very Rome-like.
This is clearly meant to be the first in a series based on the crime-solving career of Lucan Drakenfeld, so that made a few things a bit confusing. There were at least two chapters early on which were based around long conversations between our hero and others, and were background fillers – if there are more books to come, these details could have seeped out over time. And yet major details, such as the connection between Lucan and Leana are a mystery – perhaps the author has planned a specific volume which takes in that part of the backstory. But a little more information would have helped.
Unfortunately, because I had an uncorrected proof, the maps were 'to be supplied' (as was the Dedication), so it was impossible to tell if this was supposed to be some sort of alternative Earth, or another world with very human-like characters.
All-in-all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to further volumes coming out; some plotlines were fairly obvious (the betrayal of a former friend, the plot twist at the end), but it was a good romp, and unlike some books it didn’t feel like time wasted.
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