Review: The Political Samaritan: How Power Hijacked A Parable

The Political Samaritan: How power hijacked a parableThe Political Samaritan: How power hijacked a parable by Nick Spencer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a well-known passage of the Bible, familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Christian scriptures. Those who might not be aware of the biblical origins are still aware of the basic thrust of the phrase ‘good samaritan’; the term has even found its way into legislation.

Nick Spencer, writing on the subject of the Good Samaritan and the way it has been used and misused in public political discourse – particularly in that of the United Kingdom, provides a wonderful resource in his book The Political Samaritan. Showing just how easy it is to draw the parable into political speeches, Spencer looks at the way in which it has been used by many people from across the political spectrum, and the way the parable has often been subverted to political ideology rather than being the source of a moral imperative.

The four chapters in the book are well worth reading in and of themselves – particularly, from my perspective at least, the third chapter that looks at the parable itself in its context as a piece of Christian scripture away from any political perspective. When brought together, however, Spencer’s work reminds the reader to be careful in approaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan, least they misuse it for purposes that might not be in keeping with the original intent of Jesus.

This is a well-written and scholarly approach to a well-known tale. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes to deepen their understanding of scriptural passages, but also to any student of public discourse where references to this parable seem to ‘pop up’ in places and ways that are both interesting and challenging.

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Review: The Jupiter Myth

The Jupiter Myth: (Falco 14)The Jupiter Myth: by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still finding themselves in the Province of Brittania, our hero Marcus Didius Falco, his partner Helena Justina, their family and a few others in their entourage, find themselves embroiled in one of the great civilising undertakings that Roman presence brings to any part of the known world: organised crime!

What was originally intended to be a visit to family members of Helena Justina – her uncle just happens to be the provincial procurator – Falco finds himself called upon to use his professional expertise to solve the murder of a local who just happens to be someone our group had met in the previous volume. The political significance of the murder is not understated, but the presence of an organised gang of Roman criminals who seem determined to make their mark, and their fortune, in the developing settlement of Londinium.

Once again, Lindsey Davis has provided a wonderful narrative set in a gloriously painted setting. The narrative is liberally sprinkled with aspersions as to what Londinium might become in the future (which is either very prescient of Falco, or the realistic recognition of Davis), and historically appropriate. The use of the first-person narrative is becoming increasingly enjoyable for this particular reader, and something that I look forward to each time I open one of the ongoing adventures of the continuing Marco Didius Falco Mysteries series.

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Review: A Body In The Bath House

A Body In The Bath House: (Falco 13)A Body In The Bath House: by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The discovery of a body under the floor of a newly completed bathhouse in their home sees our hero, Marcus Didius Falco and his wife Helena Justina, travel back to Britain, the place where they were first introduced and came to know each other. The journey back is radically different to Falco’s first visit as a soldier of Rome’s legions; this time, he travels as an Imperial agent despatched to sort out a problem on a building site being funded from Rome’s treasury.

Arriving in Britain, Falco finds a building site immersed in corrupt practices, ravished by a series of ‘accidents’, and managed by a team bristling with jealousy and conflict. The scene seems ripe for murder and intrigue, and this is exactly what Falco, Helena and others they encounter or know come into contact with. The result is a wonderful narrative, expertly devised and delivered by the author in the style to which we’ve become accustomed to.

The use of the first-person narrative, together with the ‘gumshoe’ genre of private detective novels, provide a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Review: Eagles in the Storm

Eagles in the Storm (Eagles of Rome #3)Eagles in the Storm by Ben Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the Eagles of Rome series sees our by now well-known characters once more in the territory of the German tribes, continuing to seek revenge for the events of the Teutoberg Forest. And to recover the lost Eagles of the three legions that fell to the betrayal of Arminius.

By the conclusion of this particular volume in the series, one of the characters is recognised for his bravery and his effectiveness as a leader of soldiers, other characters are dead, and part of the mission of the Roman legions under the command of Germanicus is completed. Along the way, we delve further into the distinctive life of the Roman legion on campaign as an engaging narrative is woven around us, the fruit of erudite scholarship and experienced story-telling.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, as I have the previous series by Ben Kane that I have written. There are more to read, and I look forward to engaging with Kane’s delightful narrative style in the future.

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Review: Hunting the Eagles

Hunting the Eagles (Eagles of Rome, #2)Hunting the Eagles by Ben Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of Arminius and his treachery continues in this second edition of the Easgles of Rome series set in the early years of the Common Era and following on from the slaughter of three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. This edition follows the Roman general (and heir to the Emperor) Germanicus as he ventures into the lands of the hostile German tribes bringing vengeance and retribution to the inhabitants. The characters met in the first edition, those that survived the massacre at least, return to journey with Germanicus, facing the same tribes that destroyed their comrades and spirited away all the Eagle standards of their legions.

Along the way we encounter mutiny amongst the current legions of the German frontier, witness the virtual elimination of some German tribes, and watch as Arminius almost delivers the same kind of destruction on the current crop of Roman soldiers as he had previously done.

Again, Kane masterfully weaves a wonderful narrative into the warp and weft of history, engaging the interested reader in the larger historical story arc with attention to detail and well-developed characters. This edition, like its predecessor, was thoroughly enjoyable.

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Review: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read the books of the Discworld series almost twenty years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy world that had sprung forth from the mind of Terry Pratchett. A decision to read them again was not too difficult to make, and so the adventures of the strange inhabitants of the world that careens through the void on the back of four great elephants that stand on the shell of a great turtle will unfold again.

The world that Pratchett begins to sketch in this first volume of the series created a global phenomenon, a worldwide fan base that will stretch through a total of forty volumes. Truly this is the work of a master storyteller who is able to weave together wonderful characters, strange settings, and weird physics into a cult phenomenon that will, I suspect, stand the test of time.

In reading this first volume in the series for the second time, however, I have begun to notice the social commentary that is implicit in both Pratchett’s construction of a world and the narrative of this particular volume. I suspect I was aware of it at some level when I first read the series, but it is certainly more to the fore in my current reading.

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Review: Ode to a Banker

Ode to a Banker (Marcus Didius Falco, #12)Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where do the seemingly disconnected worlds of literature and banking come together? In this edition of the ongoing Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries series, of course.

Our well-known and well-loved hero, Falco, is drawn into these worlds because of his penchant for composing poetry and being convinced by a well-heeled friend to publically perform some of his poetry. This public performance attracts the attention of scroll publisher who, having approached Falco with an offer to publish Falco’s works, is inconveniently murdered in mysterious circumstances almost immediately afterwards.

Commissioned by his friend Petro, a member of the vigiles, to uncover the murderer, Falco finds himself drawn further into the strange world of publishing, and then, unexpectedly, into the even shadier world of banking. Assisted by a cast of regulars, Falco manages to eventually uncover the perpetrator, but not before a little adventure is had by all involved.

As always, Davis has constructed a wonderful narrative liberally sprinkled with historically authentic gems that allow the reader to dive deeper into the world of Rome in which the story is situated. The main characters, now well-loved friends, accompany the reader on the journey into mystery and murder as well as the life of the Roman Empire.

The further I delve into this series, the more I appreciate the skill with which Davis has constructed her novels. I highly recommend the series to anyone with even a passing interest in the life of Rome under the Emperor Vespasian.

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Review: Conspiracy

Conspiracy (Giordano Bruno, #5)Conspiracy by S.J. Parris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our hero finds himself back in Paris and almost immediately drawn into the intrigues of the French court. Add to that some murder and mystery, and a liberal smattering of religious and political tensions, and you have an excellent narrative to keep your attention.

Returning to Paris at the behest of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s chief secretary and spy, Bruno encounters old friends from his previous time in the city. He, unfortunately, meets some new residents of the great city, some of whom he might prefer to avoid. Being who is, however, Bruno cannot avoid being caught up in the affairs, great and small, that play out across the City of Paris – and, indeed, the nation of France. Although he manages to identify the persons responsible for the series of murders to which he is exposed, the outcome is not to his satisfaction.

This novel features another reunion with the woman who has both captured and broken his heart in past. The encounter reveals Bruno as the human being that he is. A potential reconciliation with the Catholic Church, the conduit of which request is the first murder Bruno encounters, looks both possible and as far out of his reach as before. Only time will tell.

The novel’s presentation of Paris and the French court at the time of the late Elizabethan age was new to me in this particular storyline. I found it both engaging and intriguing, primarily because while I have read widely on England during the Elizabethan age, I know very little about the other major powers during that period except the English perspective. I don’t propose to head to the library for more history books, but it was nice to have my understanding stretched.

A compelling historical work of fiction, this novel is well worth reading for anyone with a passing interest in the late Elizabethan age.

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Review: Eagles at War

Eagles at War (Eagles of Rome, #1)Eagles at War by Ben Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great story of treachery and revenge brought to life by Ben Kane as he explores the story of Arminius and his great act of revenge on the Roman occupiers of his homeland and the destruction of three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. Drawing on his love of history and his ability to weave this into a wonderful narrative, Kane has crafted another masterpiece of historical fiction that grabs the attention of the reader (or listener in this particular case) and holds it from beginning to end.

The development of the major characters – historic and fictional – across the course of the narrative is masterfully done, and I look forward to encountering them again in the remaining volumes of the series. They are believable and relatable and again contributes to the reader’s engagement with the novel, with its story, and with the larger historical arc in which the novel is situated.

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Review: Treachery

Treachery (Giordano Bruno, #4)Treachery by S.J. Parris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hero of our series, Doctor Giordano Bruno of Nola, meets Sir Francis Drake as Drake prepares for a great adventure designed to upset the Spanish and enrich England. The only problem is an unexplained death aboard Drake’s flagship, a death that threatens to delay the fleet sailing and potentially completely destroy Drake’s plan.

Accompanied by his close friend, Sir Philip Sidney, the son-in-law of Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s chief spy and Bruno’s paymaster, Bruno is drafted into the investigation of the murder. Once involved, Bruno confronts local corruption, high treason, and individual debauchery. Faced with personal danger – again! – Bruno must face an old enemy in order to save the life of the female relative of Drake and at the cost of losing an ancient text that captures Bruno’s interest and has the potential to change or destroy the basis of the Christian faith.

Bruno eventually unmasks the perpetrator of the murder, but not without a few false starts. His personal bravery and willingness to put his body on the line – literally! – enables Bruno to earn the admiration and respect of Sir Francis Drake.

This is another wonderful narrative set in the late Elizabethan age. The principal characters are by now well known and well developed, while the historicity of the storyline continues to attract attention. This is a well written and well-developed volume in the unfolding Giordano Bruno series. Very highly recommended.

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