Reviewed by David Maclaine
The only recommendation The Legate's Daughter should require is its author's name. Wallace Breem was one of the most gifted writers ever to turn his attention to the historical novel, with a mastery of descriptive writing, characterization, tone and mood rare indeed among those who work in the genre. The Legate's Daughter is as shrouded in rich, suggestive shadows as a Rembrandt masterpiece. Whether the setting is the slums of Rome or an African palace, the most striking scenes tend to take place at night, when those shadows grow darker and an unknown danger seems to lurk just out of sight. Those dangers steadily grow as the plot proceeds and suspense ratchets upwards.
The novel is set during the reign of Caesar Augustus and tracks the fate of a Roman on the fringes of society whose Greek friend stumbles on a secret that might just determine the emperor's fate. The protagonist's instincts allow him to spot the trap, a fatal bribe, but he's still drawn into a dragnet with reason to fear for his survival. He's enlisted for a dangerous mission, thanks to the combination of his inside knowledge, expendability, and the unorthodox leadership qualities that have just cost him his civil service job - in Roman times, as in ours, it's a mistake to do the right thing without getting the proper authorization. Can he rescue the kidnapped daughter of a high official, even though the kidnapping is part of a bold political play by the emperor's enemies? Success or failure may depend on how he handles another woman, the daughter of two very famous people. Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, is now the wife of a North African king. If our hero hopes to survive, he must grope through the layers of mystery that surround this remarkable young woman, while surviving a diplomatic crisis that resembles a high-stakes game of poker. Thanks to Breem's mastery of tone, the suspense stays high to the very end. (1974, 326 pages)
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