Nero’s Concert

Rome has burned to the ground, and the citizens blame Emperor Nero. Nero orders his best friend Rusticus to find proof that the Christians caused the fire. Instead Rusticus discovers three murdered senators, slain by the same person who killed his wife two years earlier. He also falls in love with Camilia, not knowing she is a Christian, a capital crime. Will he be loyal to Nero or to the woman who lied to him? Can he keep his family safe and still revenge his wife’s murder?

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In 64 AD, the heart of Rome burned to the ground while Emperor Nero famously performed a concert.  For 2,000 years, historians have accused him of setting the fire himself and making Christians the scapegoats.  To punish them, he embarked on a persecution that was to last for three centuries.  But the real Nero was more complex.  The story is told by Nero’s fictional best friend, Rusticus, a famous gladiator who saves the young emperor’s life in a chariot race and goes on to become a top minister in the imperial court.  Guided by the distinguished philosopher Seneca, Nero stabilizes the Roman Empire.  He downplays military conquest and barbaric displays of violence, opting instead for diplomacy, dependable food supplies, and the rule of law.

Nero and Rusticus personally lead thousands of firefighters and policemen to control the fire for over a week, after which the Emperor asks Rusticus to investigate how the fire began.  With the aid of a beautiful nurse, Camilia, he soon discovers three murdered senators, their faces covered by masks.  The masks portray three other murder victims who died years earlier: Nero’s mother, step-father, and half-brother.  While setting his empire on a steady course, Nero has himself become unstable.  He is furious that Rusticus cannot find any evidence that the Christians are to blame for the fire and he orders him out of Rome.  Rusticus takes the opportunity to go to Pompeii so he can follow two leads in the murder investigation.  He is accompanied by Camilia and their eight-year-old daughters, who have become constant companions. By the time they return to Rome, Rusticus has fresh clues about the murders, and he has fallen deeply in love with Camilia.

Rusticus plans to ask for her hand in marriage, but he discovers she is a secret follower of Christ.  She has not only concealed this from him, but has introduced his daughter to the forbidden cult.  Furious, he walks out on her as she weeps desperately.  He quickly discovers two more murders, and this time they are close friends.  Rusticus is being hounded by another of Nero’s advisers, Tigellinus, and he now knows it was Tigellinus that killed his wife two years earlier.  Rusticus and his daughter are forced into hiding.  The first group of Christians are rounded up and thrown in prison.  Fearing for the safety of Camilia and her family, Rusticus realizes he cannot live without her.  Reunited, they are captured and imprisoned, where he meets the head of the new religion, Peter, before they are all led off to the arena to die.

The heavily researched novel takes place in the devastated city of Rome under an emperor who is growing increasingly psychotic.  Characters include the evil Tigellinus, Nero’s selfish new wife Poppaea, and a witch who seems to read minds.  There is a fanatical Christian named Gladius who agitates the Romans by claiming that Christ is coming to smite the unbelievers with fire.  Gladius is also the son of the Good Thief, and his life changed 30 years earlier when he witnessed his father die on the cross, pardoned by Jesus.

The tone of Nero’s Concert is similar to Robert Harris’ best-seller Pompeii, and the recent HBO series, “Rome”, in that it merges actual historical figures with fictional characters and does so in a way that brings the action to the level of the street, showing daily life not just as it was for the rich and famous, but also for the common people.

Reviews from Amazon (read more)

“Nero’s Concert is an engaging love story as well as an entertaining and informative account of a time that lives in our consciousness as myth more than fact.”

“Suspenseful and totally entertaining, anyone who loves a good mystery will enjoy reading Nero’s Concert. Although the story is set in Rome approximately two thousand years ago, it has that contemporary ring to it. As corny as it may sound, Westenhaver has a gift of making the past come alive. His characters are real people facing real problems and struggling with the conflicts of the age.”

“The story line is a very believable version of mystery, greed, love interwoven with the history of the times. In fact, after reading the book, in some respects I down right believe the events portrayed actually happened. A mark of a brilliant author!”

Review from Reader’s Favorite (read more)

“This is a fictional account that intermingles both actual historical figures and fictional characters. The culture of the era comes to life in this tale. This tale is suspenseful, historical, romantic, and action all rolled into one.”

One thought on “Nero’s Concert

  1. After touring the ruins of Pompeii in 2002, I decided to write a murder mystery set in that Roman resort town just before the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius buried it for centuries. I built a list of characters, designed the general plot, and read everything I could get my hands on about ancient Rome. After a few months of work, I passed by a bookstore window displaying the novel “Pompeii” by one of my favorite authors, Robert Harris. It’s a mystery that takes place at the time of the disaster, the very book I had intended for my own.

    Obviously I could not continue the Pompeii story, only to be compared unfavorably with Harris. But I was reluctant to let all my research go to waste, so I searched for another disaster that occurred in the same century around which to build my story. This led me to the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, which in turn became the basis for “Nero’s Concert.”

    But there is nothing truly new under the sun. After I had finished “Nero’s Concert” I discovered a similar novel (and movie) called “Quo Vadis”. It was published in Poland way back in 1895, so I suppose that’s OK.

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