This supposed historical murder mystery will disappoint any intelligent reader unless she is deeply into the itinerary and military tactics of Alexander the Great, or what his soldiers wore. Their military clothes, that is. Author P.C. Doherty at one memorable point intrudes a scene of a "transvestite" Athenian footsoldier in makeup and drag swivel-hipping his way around Alexander's first Asia Minor army campsite, near Troy. It is unfortunately a typical example of Doherty's style: ludicrous and ahistorical, thinly written, and utterly unconnected with the plot. We do, eventually, get a fine recreation of Alexander's first great victory against the Persians, complete with what his soldiers wore into battle as well as Alexander's bold tactics, intricate strategies, fiery leadership, and personal bravery. And the Asian countryside is pleasantly depicted. But that's it. As a historical murder mystery, the book collapses, its plot totally unconvincing, its historicity in considerable doubt.
The problem is twofold. First, it appears that Doherty writes his novels at 3 a.m. during caffeine jags. Characterization moves from the muddled and inconsistent to the laughably stick-figure, particularly with Alexander's unruly bevy of battle-competent generals. The writing is hasty, off-putting, jerky. The plot makes little or no sense and moves forward in a similarly jerky, stick-figure fashion. The detective, a young doctor named Telamon, is (uncharacteristically for Doherty) somewhat complex as a person, but not very convincing as a sleuth. It is as though Doherty invented the deus ex machina to keep things moving along. The several villains are given internally inconsistent motivations and characterizations. Alexander himself is stereotypically (and ahistorically) pseudopsychoanalyzed by Doherty as the almost schizoid child of a stern dictatorial womanizing father and a feminist-mystic hysterical termagent of a mother; he is brilliant and commandingly mature at one moment, confused and peevishly childish at another. None of it seems well thought through, much less well plotted.
The second problem is Doherty's day job, as headmaster of an English preparatory school. Or, at least, so it seems. Sex between persons of the same gender, especially between adult and adolescent males, was an accepted commonplace of ancient Greek (as well as late Persian and Roman) society and it was an important part of Alexander's life and exploits. However, sex between students of the same gender, or between adult masters and their students, though constantly a temptation in single-gender boarding schools, is today utterly verboten. A headmaster who wrote in any way approvingly of such would soon be sacked. Doherty obediently follows fashion here, looking down his nose at any same-sex dealings. Moreover, modern readers ignorantly expect all same-sex relationships to be modeled upon and to approximate heterosexual ones; that the range of, and moral attitudes toward, sexual modes such as lesbianism, pedophilia, or transvestism would have been the same in the past as they are now; and that humans can only be either heterosexual or homosexual. Doherty panders blatantly to these oversimplified stupidities. While he admits that Alexander had sexual relations with several men, Doherty explains this away through amateur psychologizing. His adolescent males are either "bum boys," effeminate and mincing, or "normal," without any supposedly effeminate characteristics. Women are either "followers of Sappho" (that is, lesbian), or "straight." The reality of Mediterrenean sexual mapping two milennia ago was amazingly disparate from that of today--male/male permanent adult homosexual relationships were quite uncommon, sex by adult males with children (especially with boys) was normal and common, sexual promiscuity was a normal part of certain religious activities, transvestism was unknown, and males typically had sex with members of both genders during their whole lives, though less so as post-30 adults. (We know almost nothing about adult sexual relations between women.) Doherty seems to pride himself on his historical accuracy with regard to use of source materials, to the known events in Alexander's life, and to military matters, but he prostitutes himself on the altar of modern sexual prudishness when it comes to representing the sexual mores of Alexander's time. Along with his caffeinated writing, it ruins his historical murder mystery, for this reader at least.