Murder in the Fifth Century
The Cybelene ConspiracyAlbert Noyer
(Toby Press · paper · $14.95)
Good fiction should not only transport you to a unique time and place, but should so thoroughly immerse you in this world that you forget about water boiling on your stove until the kettle explodes. I like to call this effect reality amnesia, and, sadly, it is hard to come by in a market overrun by formula novels and beach reading. If you love mystery fiction but crave something different, check out New Mexico author Albert Noyer's latest book.
In The Cybelene Conspiracy, Noyer takes us to Ravenna, Italy in 440 A.D.—a world of coded messages, secret tunnels, cults and sinister temples. Protagonists Getorius and Arcadia Asterius have their work cut out for them when they discover the body of a castrated young man in an Arian church. Who is the sobbing vestal virgin discovered near the body? Why is the head of the church being blamed for the murder? And why is a prominent senator smuggling counterfeit coins to the Eastern empire? Through the process of examining the body and interviewing witnesses, questions only lead to more questions until Getorius and Arcadia become hip to a scam that threatens to change the course of Western history.
Noyer's books are not typical historical mysteries—they are neither linear nor predictable. One minute the protagonists are in their medical clinic examining a corpse. The next minute they're stowaways on board a pirate ship, held captive in a mausoleum or thundering down the steps of an ancient temple. This book is undoubtedly a "thriller," artfully weaving together several different story threads with interpersonal drama, strong dialogue, ancient history and breathless adventure. An unexpected treat is the Old World medical folklore revealed through the protagonists, as they prescribe remedies like teas, herbs and mulled wines for ailments such as "humor imbalances."
But Noyer's best known trait is his painstaking sense of historical authenticity—as if he has actually walked the cobbled streets of Ravenna himself. Bridging the gap between fiction and nonfiction, The Cybelene Conspiracy is a history lesson that you don't mind learning (and there's no test at the end). With a colorful cast of eunuch archpriests, gladiators, pirates and Chinese merchants, this riveting tour of an ancient world is sure to entertain even the most discriminating of readers.