The Queen of the Night

Written by Paul Doherty
Review by Mary Tod

Rome is horrified by a series of violent abductions in which the sons and daughters of the wealthiest Roman families are imprisoned and ransomed. Even more mysteriously, a killer is on the loose who has already murdered and savagely butchered several veteran centurions who had been among the last to serve on the Great Wall in Northern Britain, defending it against the barbarous Picts who ransacked the almost deserted forts and towns. Emperor Constantine only entered Rome the year before, after his famous conversion when he saw the sign of the cross in the sky above the Milvian Bridge. However, the most important figure now in Rome is not the Emperor but his mother, Helena, known as Augusta. Her psychological hold over her son is well documented by historians, and here it is played out to the full.

Empress Helena has a network of secret agents, none more trusted than Claudia, “her little mouse”. A less mouse-like character would be hard to imagine as this young Roman sleuth braves Rome’s seedier quarters, ventures into the lair of the Inferni, and confronts Egyptian priests and murderesses. The story is also staged among Rome’s burgeoning Christian community, who at last can live openly after Constantine’s Edict of Milan; in fact their priests lose no time in acquiring the trappings of power: wealth and spies. I learnt some fascinating information about arsenic and the earliest relic hunters. This is a compulsive page-turner, an intricate story written by an author who is passionate about his craft, with a faultless knowledge of period and place.