by Richard Beard

Harvill Secker


342pp/£17.99/May 2015

Acts of the Assassins

Julia Connolly

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Richard Beardís Acts of the Assassins (a.k.a. The Apostle Killer) has an identity issue, but in a good way. The author canít quite seem to decide if he is writing a police procedural, an alternate history, and allegory, or a tale of discovery and redemption. In the end, the novel is all of those things, achieving each goal with a variety of success. The novel tells the story of Roman Speculator Cassius Marcellus Gallio, whose career was tainted when the body of a troublemaker he was responsible for overseeing disappeared. Several years later, when that individuals acquaintances are being killed, Gallio is brought in to help figure out what is going on.

Ostensibly, Gallio is investigating the deaths of Jesus and the apostles in first century Judaea, however he is doing so using not only modern detecting techniques, but also using modern technology. This is a first century Rome that has computers, cell phones, and airplanes, although there is no indication of how these things have come to exist in the time or location, they simply need to be accepted. Gallio interviews each of the apostles, originally trying to figure out what happened to Jesusí body and which of the apostles were in on the conspiracy to make Jesus disappear. During this time, Gallio also begins to suspect that Jesus was not crucified, but rather one of his apostles took Jesusí place on the cross. Eventually, he begins to seek a fuller understanding of Jesus.

Assuming the reader can get passed the unexplained anachronisms and accept Beardís story for what it is, Beard tells a complex police procedural filled with red herrings, changing focus, and personal issues for his Speculator, who has a complex relationship with his ex-wife, his partner (who is dating his ex-wife), and his boss (a former subordinate with whom he had a romantic attachment). Rather the distract from the police procedural nature of the novel, the disarray of Gallioís life and his inability to maintain good standing within the department, adds to the sense of urgency that the case be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, as much as the continuing deaths of Jesusí apostles (all of whose deaths mirror various martyrs deaths, although not necessarily how each apostle is supposed to have died).

The background to Acts of the Assassins makes little sense. A reader trying to figure out how to get from our own history to the world which Gallio and his compatriots inhabit is in for a mind-bending exercise in futility. The fact that Beard introduces the modernisms slowly helps, since the reader is well into the story before the degree to which Gallioís world differs from our own is apparent. Furthermore, many of the modern trappings included in the work are not necessary for the story Beard is telling, and serve more as a distraction from the story.

Beard does a better job of creating his characters and their interactions than he does keeping track of the mystery Gallio is looking into. While the investigation drives the narrative, it is a little messy and takes a few too many turns. What keeps the reader vested in the story is the way in which Gallio interacts with the people on his team and the way he connects with the different disciples.

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