Roman Noir

Welcome to Roman Noir

The critically-acclaimed Arcturus series returns!

For a musical accompaniment to the slideshow, click the player.

The Arcturus books are more than a series of historical mysteries or a group of hard-boiled tales.

They’re the story of a man’s life.

Doctor and problem-solver. Roman and native. Soldier and healer.

Arcturus lives a contradiction, a man caught between worlds he understands, but can’t belong to. He does what he can for them. But ultimately he belongs to himself.

Join him on his journeys. There’ll be a few detours.


What is Roman noir?

Rome and History

So let’s talk about history. It’s a good Greek word, and it means learning about something through investigation. Sounds a lot like gumshoe work …

History is never absolute. And ancient history is an act of deliberate translation. The historian is ultimately a combination of detective and story-teller, shifting through evidence, questioning the reliability of the evidence, and then compiling it into a narrative. That’s the translation part. They have to convey a story, interpreting and transforming contradictory primary sources and taciturn material culture into a best guess. Or a preferred guess. Every historian interprets history subjectively.

Historians or classicists or other scholars who spend their time in ancient Greece or Rome face centuries of research, interpretation and emotional investment in these cultures. They not only must weigh the evidence, they must weigh the hundreds of years of scholarship, opinion and outright ownership behind much of it. These ancient cultures shaped the modern world, and political entities from America’s Founding Fathers to Mussolini have appropriated them.

Combine this with the fact that most primary sources are written by aristocratic men and most material culture is wide-open to interpretation, and you can begin to see how fluid and subjective history—that act of learning through investigation—really is.

My Rome—my Roman Britain—is not everyone’s Roman Britain. But it is based on my interpretation of primary texts, inscriptions, artifacts, and reliable secondary sources. I’m a classicist by training—and I’m proud of it.

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Fiction

The borders between history and fiction are more fluid than anybody likes. With every new papyrus discovery, every new archaeological find, the past morphs into new shapes, a little less shadowy than before. What was considered history a few centuries ago may no longer be history at all.

You can blame Herodotus. He’s known as The Father of History. He’s also known as The Father of Lies. But he was a damn good storyteller.

While researching a paper, I discovered that the story about the Romans sowing salt in the farmlands of Carthage was a myth. No primary sources reported it. Apparently initiated by a highly trusted secondary source several decades ago, it was accepted as history, and even today is widely-believed.

So much for history and fiction.

As a writer, I can count on one thing: humanity. Cultural habits, societal concerns, economics—these things change. But not human emotion, human fallibility and human triumphs. I also count on possibility. I prefer the plausible, but I will always fall back to the possible.

You won’t find a preoccupation with minute historical detail in my Roman Noir. I’d rather you feel it than read about it. And keep in mind that not everyone wore togas and not everyone ate while reclining. If our culture died outand all that survived was a celebrity sex tape and a few episodes of reality TV, I tremble to think how we’d be remembered …

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Noir

Noir is an evolving concept, the darkest black composed of shades of grey. And there are a lot of shades. Shades of thought, shades of fiction, shades of attitude.

“Roman noir” is a deliberate play on words. Many scholars, particularly the French, label early noir fiction—the hard-boiled stories of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and others—as “roman noir.”

I happen to agree with them, though I understand the niceties of finer labeling techniques. Besides, “hardboiled Rome” sounds like an overcooked egg dish.

Because my book is a continuing series—and I’m interested in characters, as both writer and reader—my book is not the bleak, existential plunge that many think of as classic noir. I like a little redemption with my shots of bitter. My style and my protagonist are—like many a writer’s before me—inspired by Chandler. He found hope in the attempt, if not the success, and that’s a good enough model for me.

By “noir” I am also referring to the film noir label, again first used by French scholars to define many post-war black-and-white crime melodramas. From Double Indemnity to The Sweet Smell of Success, I love ‘em all. You can check out my list of favorites and see if you’ve missed any.

As for those who might question whether ancient Rome (or any historical setting outside of the 1920s-1950s) is well and truly “noir” … well, my own opinion is that noir is more of an atmosphere than a content. It was born in a city, true—and Rome gave birth to the city as we know it. Rome was the first culture to define urbanity and stamp it everywhere she went, and like many a female in noir both cinematic and paper-bound—she got around plenty.

Londinium was a cosmopolitan spot in  836 a.u.c. A diverse mix of people from every dirty corner of the Empire, plenty of rigged investment schemes, civil unrest, native resentment, sluggish bureaucracy and a lot of expensive infrastructure. Sounds like a city to me.

In the Roman noir series, I’ve integrated real people, real inscriptions, real artifacts. But the  primary purpose of all my books is to entertain you so thoroughly, to enmesh you so convincingly, that you sometimes forget you’re reading history—and more importantly, you don’t care.

Thanks for listening.  And welcome to Roman Noir …

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