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in association with, click hereThe Secundus Papyrus
by Albert Noyer

Getorius watched the ides of November dawn with a cold deluge that poured in translucent sheets onto the buildings and streets of Ravenna. Well before midmorning the downpour sloshing off the roof tiles had backed up some of the city's sewers. Marshes already swollen by the wet autumn could not contain the extra water, and a foul-smelling effluent was forced over curbs and into the narrow streets. The sour smell replaced the fragrance of baking bread and roasting meats that normally filled the morning air.

The above excerpt gives you a good impression of this novel, a mystery constructed in the 5th century AD and largely taking place in the imperial city of Ravenna, in the Western Empire. Well written, serious, and excellently researched, as far as I could discern. One would have wished for an afterword by the author about his sources.

Getorius Asterius, orphaned by the murder of his parents in Moguntiacum and adopted by the physician Nicias, the later – and late, at the time of the story – palace surgeon to the empress Galla Placidia, had been brought to Ravenna and trained as a physician, a man with an inquiring mind. He is married to Arcadia Valeriana, a beautiful but headstrong young Roman woman, determined to become a medica herself.

Getorius is called in by the young emperor Valentinian to examine the drowning death of a Hibernian hermit monk, and the story takes off from there.

It takes a while to sort out all the characters, from Galla Placidia, her son Valentinian, the Master of Soldiers Aetius, the Senator Maximim, and others, down to the rabbi David ben Zadok and Brenos of Slana, a Gallic abbot, superior of the dead monk; as well as all kinds of folk of various tribal origin – as can only be expected in the very late empire.

At the center of the story is a document, the Secundus Papyrus, purported to be from the Nazarene, as he is called by the heretics. Revealed at its planned time, it would destroy the Roman world as known. Several people involved in the discovery of the papyrus and research on its authenticity are found murdered or dead under suspicious circumstances, and it is a race against time for Getorius and Arcadia to assist the Empress in keeping the papyrus hidden and finding out who is behind the signs of the red rooster cropping up in connection with the document, and the extent of a possible conspiracy. They themselves barely escape defamation and death before they can solve the mystery and avert success of the plotters.

Along the way, cleverly woven into the story, we are treated to descriptions of the imperial library and the palace, and given a treatise in 5th century medicine, as well as the divisions in the church and apocalyptic views, and not to forget, 5th century cuisine.

It is not an easy read as mysteries go, especially with a time period not well known even to Roman history buffs, one would expect, but wholly satisfying. Mr. Noyer has the ability to bring his characters and their environment to life and to build up a satisfying suspense. The end of the story though, after the dénouement, falls a bit flat. But this is a minor complaint…

This book is the first in a planned trilogy. I eagerly await the next one, titled The Cybelene Conspiracy. It will be released in Spring 2005.*

Irene Hahn

* Postcript: And here it is!

© 2004 Irene B. Hahn

The Secundus Papyrus
by Albert Noyer
Paperback, 346 Pages
Toby Press (October 2003)
ISBN: 1592640
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 Cybelene Conspiracy
by Albert Noyer
Paperback, 316 Pages
Toby Press (May 2005)
ISBN: 1592640338
List Price US$14.95
Review of “The Cybelene Conspiracy ”

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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