So far on this holiday I’ve been READING! I’ve read three historical novels — one set in Salem during the witch trials, one set in ancient Rome and a third set in ancient Egypt, plus a crime novel set in a part of NYC I know very well during the 1980s — when I lived there. Reading what Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef/TV personality/author did with well known organized crime figures from my old “hood” was fascinating. He turned Vincent “The Chin” Gigante into his own crime boss, Charlie Wagons, and the actor who played Grandpa in “The Munsters” into his own“ connected” restauranteur/actor “
I remember the real mob boss strolling around the neighborhood wearing a bathrobe and slippers, arm-in-arm with his confederates, giving orders outside the reach of FBI and NYPD recording devices. I never went to the old TV star’s restaurant. It was too touristy for me and, frankly, what money I had during that time wasn’t going to red sauce Italian tourist traps, as there were so many other ways to spend my money. Still, I saw the real deal in action every day during my time in Sullivan Street.
Having a personal connection with the time & place made me hyper critical of the atmospheric details and Bourdain came through with just enough reality to make it credible. This, of course, made me wonder about the credibility of the previous three novels. How much do I know about Salem, Imperial Rome and the Amarna period of ancient Egypt? Some, but perhaps not enough to judge the credulity of the fictional stories…
“I Am Livia” by Phyllis T. Smith was very convincing. I enjoyed the details of every day life among the Roman upper crust and the amazing political machinations. They rang true, but I don’t know if it was the author’s skill as a storyteller or her research that resulted in an exceptional read. Maybe it was both?
Robert Walker’s “Children of Salam” was a good read and he made a convincing case for the economic motivations of the witch trials. Still, my favorite theory about this historical phenomenon involves ergot — the hallucinogenic derived from a mold that grows in rye flour — and that was not part of his plot. I kept hoping it would show up.
Having researched the Amarna period for a novel (it will not see the light of day) a while back, I was less convinced by “Kiya: Home of the Pharaoh” — although a enjoyed reading the book and may go on to the next in the series.
I’m now wondering how much weight to put on credibility and the significance of background/atmospheric details. What do you think?