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in association with, click hereThe Cybelene Conspiracy
by Albert Noyer

Thecla was just turning back from opening the second door, to admit as much of the fading light as possible, when she heard what sounded like sobs echoing in the dim space, coming from the direction of the chancel area around the altar. She hesitated a moment, then walked along the arcade until she made out the figure of a woman swathed in a white robe, sitting on the stone floor near the pulpit. A veil partially concealed her head and face. The woman's bulky garment rose and fell with each sob.

“Domina? Domina, are you ill?”  Thecla whispered, puzzled that someone would be in her basilica at this hour.

Louder sobbing was the only answer. The robes look vaguely familiar, Thecla thought, but I don't believe she's a congregation member.

“Can I help you, Domina?”  she repeated more loudly.

A presbytera of the heretic Arian church, a vestal virgin, a pagan priest of Cybele, a Chinese trader, a ship owner and his crew, a pair of gladiators, a Roman senator: what brings them all together in this mystery set in Ravenna in the early 5th century A.D, at a time when the threat of the Vandals looms large?

The story features the surgeon Getorius and his young wife Arcadia, striving to become a medica under his reluctant tutelage. The couple is determined to find out who performed the ritual castration and murder of a young slave, and to clear the presbytera Thecla of the crime.

We have met their inquiring and enterprising minds already in The Secundus Papyrus. They still haven't learned their lesson and throw themselves headlong into the events, soon becoming temporary stow-a-ways on a boat crossing the Adriatic to the Dalmatian port of Olcinium, where they get caught in an earthquake. The discovery of counterfeit coins as well as a hidden hoard of jewels make them suspicious that there may be more to the murder than meets the eye. Arcadia soon finds herself detained in the imperial palace, and things get worse from there. If all that leaves you a bit breathless, you are not alone!

The story is well constructed, the language beautiful, and what's best, one feels oneself really transported into the fifth century A.D. Mr. Noyer has created a believable Ravenna, from the lowliest city dwellers to the imperial court of Galla Placidia and her son, the Emperor Valentinian III, to a group of outlawed gladiators. The city is well imagined, and the author has drawn maps of it and plans of residences for the book.

The earthquake at Olcinium and its aftermath makes for an excellent story in itself. Religious controversies and an attempt to revive a Pagan cult have been well researched, and the state of medicine in the 5th century imaginatively recreated. Arcadia's struggle to have her husband condone her plans as a medica may be a bit of historical revisionism, but who knows what really went on in the middle class of Ancient Rome.

We meet several of the characters from the first book in the series, foremost the Empress, and the senator Publius Maximin, a semi-historical personality of dubious character. A new introduction is the imperial investigator Leudovald, and we probably haven't seen the last of him.

A new twist to the 5th century scene is given by the appearance of the Chinese importer Zhang Chen, who brings with him wares of heretofore unknown power, both economical and military. And the orphan Getorius gets a tantalizing glimpse into his own past as an infant, only to loose it again when his informant gets killed in the earthquake.

To say more of the plot itself would give it away. However, the book's title reveals already that, as in the previous adventure of Getorius and Arcadia, a full blown conspiracy is at hand. So let me just add that mystery fans will be entertained by additional murder and mayhem before the story comes to its – literally – rousing conclusion.

Mr. Noyer is already at work at the third installment of the series, which takes the couple to the Eastern Empire.

Irene Hahn

© 2005 Irene B. Hahn

The Cybelene Conspiracy
by Albert Noyer
Paperback, 316 Pages
Toby Press (2005)
ISBN: 1592640338
List Price US$14.95
The Saint's Day Deaths
by Albert Noyer
Paperback, 344 Pages
Creative Arts Book Company ( 2000)
ISBN: 0887392520
List Price (used)
The Secundus Papyrus
by Albert Noyer
Paperback, 346 Pages
Toby Press (2003)
ISBN: 1592640
List Price US$14.95
Review of “Secundus Papyrus”

The technique of research in writing historical novels
Notes by Albert Noyer on his research for the “Secundus Papyrus”

Albert Noyer's website

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