The city of Halicarnassus stands as the next obstacle in the path of Alexander the Great’s campaign of conquest. With its imposing walls and the sea surrounding the city, it has the potential to withstand any siege – but it has one weakness. Its architect Pythias, after fleeing the city, wrote the details in a coded message, the Pythian Manuscript. With all parties attempting to decode the message – which also includes the location of a valuable treasure – the race is on to find the truth hidden in the manuscript.
In an estate outside the walls, Alexander oversees his retinue, including his childhood friend Telamon and a collection of scholars working on the manuscript. But it rapidly becomes clear that someone is leaking Alexander’s plans – somehow – into the city, and Telamon is tasked with seeking them out. But when one of the scholars “falls” from the window of his locked study, it seems that the problems at the villa are only just beginning…
After my last read, my brief return to historical crime fiction continues. I mentioned in my last read that the sense of time seemed to be lacking. That’s certainly not the case here, as Paul Doherty, as ever, brings the past to vivid life. To be fair, that’s a bit easier when you set it around a precise historical event, but there’s so much detail put into the text, which, despite this, never swamps the narrative.
Doherty often weaves multiple plots together, here running the story of the siege and secret of the city alongside the identity of the murderer, with both stories weaving themselves together at times. The character of Alexander is a fascinating one, as despite the need to stop the traitor, he doesn’t particularly care who it is, just that his plans aren’t scuppered. There’s a lovely section at the end of the book when, as the siege reaches its fruition, he dismissively sends Telamon back to the villa to do what he has to do – namely confront the murderer. Credit as well for the scenes of Alexander’s opposition inside the city that rack up the tension as it becomes clear that there’s clearly spies working for both sides…
It’s a cracking tale, a real page-turner, with some great tips on what to do if someone leaves a basket of vipers in your bedroom during the night, and at least one method of murder that I’ve not seen before (although to be fair, you can only kill a chef who’s preparing an eel dish with it).
On the downside, the locked room solution and identity of the traitor contains one of my less favourite devices, but that’s only a blip on my enjoyment of this tale. A reminder of what I enjoy about historical mysteries. Highly Recommended.
Other Alexander tales from Paul Doherty – all worth a look, but A Murder In Thebes is my favourite – and only 99p on Kindle!