The Song of the Gladiator by Paul Doherty

Song Of The Gladiator313 AD, Rome. Constantine, the Emperor of the West, has summoned a meeting between the various factions of the Christian Church in an effort to dampen the frictions between the various beliefs. Constantine has endorsed Christianity while (possibly) not believing it himself, but his mother, the Empress Helena, has fully embraced it. So much so, she is more than a little peeved when her priceless relic, a holy sword, vanishes from inside a locked and guarded chamber. Things don’t improve much when one of the delegates for the meeting is found staked out on the grass, having bled to death from hundreds of cuts to his body.

Helena’s agent, Claudia, is charged to sort it all out, but she has her own concerns. Her beloved Murranus, a gladiator, stands accused of poisoning his rival and, moreover, she is coming closer to identifying the man who murdered her brother and raped her five years previously. With all of this going it, you’d  better hope that Licinius, the Emperor of the East, isn’t about to make a move…

Another of my “Original Sins” reviews and we’re still in Rome. And obviously, you’re expecting another glowing review of my favourite author. But this time, you might be in for a surprise…

…because it’s probably the weakest book from Paul Doherty that I’ve read for a long time. As ever, there are a multitude of plots going on, but there’s very little (if any) overlap between them. One of them, the gladiator story, which, by the way, is by far the best of the bunch, is put on hold for a long period, as, with Claudia at the meeting, there’s no real way to involve her in this plot at the same time. The vanishing sword is rather telegraphed, and also makes the investigators look a bit dumb for not working it out and the murders… are well-written – no-one writes a death like Doherty – but at the end of the day, aren’t desperately interesting.

The background, as you might expect, is interesting, but even that seemed a little flat at times, much to my surprise. And, as with the Mr Fox story in my most recent review, the rapist storyline, carried over from the previous book, doesn’t quite gel with the rest of it. It seemed as if Doherty wanted to knock this strand on the head, but, apart from some nice logic narrowing down the suspects, it’s almost peripheral to the plot.

All in all, a bit of a shame as I really enjoyed Murder Imperial and Murder’s Immortal Mask. Just one to go in the series now (The Queen of the Night) and hopefully, with the backstory resolved, it’ll be a return to form.

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