Book Review: Caesar’s Lictor by Alex Johnston

“Please tell the chef to go easy on the garum.” If you want to read the joke to which this is the punchline you will have to read this book. But I’ll give you a clue, it is told by Julius Caesar and the butt is Cato.
Alex Johnston scores once again with his novella Caesar’s Lictor. What is a lictor? You ask. “The primary function of a lictor is to shove people out of the way when his boss is walking or riding in a litter and to beat the hell out of troublemakers (as defined by said boss.) Lictors are a tough, hard-drinking bunch, and most of them are meaner than scalded snakes. Some of the happiest moments in a lictor’s life is when he is told to give somebody the axe.” I should add that only the highest Roman magistrates are allowed to have lictors. A Consul has twelve and a Praetor has six.
So now you know what a lictor is, and surely you must understand our hero Marcus Mettius’ chagrin when Julius Caesar orders him to steal the fasces from several of Pompey’s lictors!
So after three books Marcus Mettius is still doing Caesar’s bidding? When is that man going to wise up? In the first book, Caesar’s Ambassador, he was almost burned at the stake by Ariovistus, in the second book, Caesar’s Emissary, he nearly gets torn apart by a mob in Alexandria, and in the third book, Julia’s song he nearly meets his doom at the hands of Clodius’s thugs! What will happen when Gneius Pompey catches him in the act!
In this fourth book Marcus Mettius has accompanied Julius Caesar to Luca to meet with Pompey and Crassus to form a triumvirate. The problem is that Pompey and Crassus hate each other with a passion and neither particularly likes Caesar. (Although Caesar is Pompey’s father in law.) Marcus Mettius acts as Caesar’s gofer, procuring wine, stealing fasces and whatever else need to be done.
Did you know that the Romans had blonde jokes? Did you hear about the Gaul who heard that blondes were stupid, so he shaved his head? And the reason Gallic generals don’t practice decimation is because they can’t count to ten. (The Romans actually didn’t think much of the intelligence of the Gaul, who, according to Livy, went into battle screaming and nearly naked, so I suspect that they really did have blonde jokes.)
As usual, Alex Johnston combines a thorough knowledge of Roman history with a comic’s eye for the ironic and absurd.

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