Book Review: The Year of the Snake by M. J. Trow & Maryanne Coleman

The Year of the SnakeAbout the Book

Sometimes, a snake is just a snake. And sometimes…

First-century Rome. Senator Gaius Lucius Nerva is taken ill at a dinner party and dies a few days later. His heartbroken wife, Flavia, is told it was a natural death. Calidus, Nerva’s recently freed slave, suspects otherwise.  As he embarks upon the funeral ceremonies, Calidus becomes more and more convinced that his master was murdered and begins an investigation, seeking out everyone who had attended the dinner party.

His enquiries lead him to rub shoulders with the ‘great and good’ of Rome; senators, soldiers, even the ruthless and mercurial Emperor Nero. And his former lover, Julia Eusabia, who seems intent on rekindling their romance and luring him away from his wife and daughter.

Calidus’ quest is by no means easy or safe as he encounters the darkest and most dangerous people in Rome. But he knows he must keep searching for the person responsible, to bring justice to the master he had loved.

Format: ebook (313 pp.)              Publisher: Endeavour Media
Published: 16th July 2018           Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

In The Year of the Snake, the authors certainly succeed in bringing to life the sights, smells and sounds of ancient Rome, describing customs, festivals, food and clothing in meticulous detail.  I particularly enjoyed the description of the Juvenal Games near the end of the book with its panoply of exotic creatures and extravagant procession.

Calidus’s investigation into the death of his beloved master, Gaius Lucius Nerva, centres on those who attended a dinner the evening before Nerva’s unexpected demise.  It plunges Calidus into the murky world of politics, ambition and ancient cults.  ‘Dark deeds are done are done in darkness.’ He also finds himself drawn into the decidedly dangerous ambit of the power-crazed (actually pretty much everything-crazed) Emperor Nero.  ‘But this was Nero’s Rome, a city crawling with the cruel, the licentious, the insane.’ Within the Imperial Household there is extravagance, excess, debauchery, plots and intrigue aplenty.  And then, of course, there’s Calidus’s old flame, Julia, now a lady of the court but is that flame still flickering?  Calidus’s wife, Paula, certainly begins to suspect there’s no smoke without fire…

In The Year of the Snake, the authors give readers a lot of characters to get to grips with, especially when you include the husbands, wives, servants and mistresses of key characters.  A dramatis personae would perhaps have been helpful.  My favourite character was Piso the pickpocket who, through his knowledge of the seedier side of Rome, helps Calidus with his investigation.  Piso has a great turn of phrase and a scathing view of those who would like to think they are his betters. After listening to Emperor Nero’s obsequious speech at the Juvenal Games, ‘Piso toyed with throwing up in the corner, but somebody like him would have to clean it up and so, in an unusual rush of solidarity with the people of Rome, he thought better of it.’

The book description promises an Agatha Christie-style finale and it certainly delivers on that promise with Calidus adopting the mantle of Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery of Nerva’s death and reveal the culprit while the tension builds.  Events of the past cast long shadows, it seems.

I enjoyed The Year of the Snake.  I very much liked the historical detail that was clearly the product of extensive research on the part of the authors.  As the book progresses I did find, however, that the investigation of Nerva’s murder takes second place to the shenanigans in the Imperial Household and the politics of ancient Rome.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Endeavour Media, and NetGalley in return for an honest and unbiased review.  There a few issues with the formatting of the book, especially the sudden changes of scene mid-chapter with no indication except for an asterisk which could easily be overlooked.  Hopefully, since I was reading an eARC, this will be corrected for the final version.

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Try something similar…Roman Blood (Roma Sub Rosa #1) by Steven Saylor

M J TrowAbout the Author

Meirion James Trow is a full-time teacher of history who has been doubling as a crime writer for seventeen years. Originally from Ferndale, Rhondda in South Wales he now lives on the Isle of Wight. His interests include collecting militaria, film, the supernatural and true crime.

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