Actium’s Wake

Written by Ralph Jackman
Review by Barry Webb

Roman Senator and army officer Marcus Rutilius is portrayed, in first person point-of-view, as the perennial loser. The story begins in Egypt with the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra by Octavian (aka Augustus). Though born to high status, and married, he has no children and possesses no detectable skills, nor any great intellect. As a military officer, he makes blunders that draw Octavian’s displeasure.

In his efforts to rectify his position vis-à-vis Octavian, he makes additional mistakes, causing Octavian to seize all his property, except for his house in Rome, to pay the cost. Each blunder he commits causes him to engage in ever more stupid, outrageous schemes in an attempt to regain what he has lost. As he digs his hole ever deeper, he gets his wife killed and his home burnt down and brings immeasurable pain and grief to those around him. By the middle of the book I was so ticked off at this turkey that I was hoping someone would go ahead and kill him to put him out of everyone else’s misery. And yet, I found myself wanting to continue reading to see what foolish idea he would come up with next to try to dig himself out of the ever-deeper hole. The protagonist’s one redeeming factor was that he seemed to treat his household help with kindness. In the end Rutilius does manage to exhibit a touch of nobility when he frees his slaves.

Very well researched, the story gives a good feel for ancient Rome and the intrigues that were common. The reader occasionally feels tension and a sense of danger. The writing is tight and fast-paced. Recommended.