From the Eternal City of Rome to the remote outpost of Roman-occupied Judea comes a fresh new mystery series by J. Brooks Van Dyke which evokes the feel of the ancient world in the final days of Christ’s life. Like his other mysteries, Van Dyke’s Empire of Secrets evolves into a hotbed of intrigue, espionage, romance and bitter betrayals as he transports his readers to the political upheavals in Judea in 33 A.D.
Caught up in the same conflict, Gaius Secundus, a recent graduate of Rome’s military academy, has been dispatched to Judea to find his older brother’s assassin. In his desperate search for truth, Gaius uncovers a deadly plot that rocks the ancient world, throwing the young Roman warrior into turmoil and a spiritual warfare of his own.
What web turned his brother against family honor? What great deception touched the lives of two very different women? What evil scheme threatened the Peace of Rome? The call to redemption stirs him even more: Was Jesus the Nazarene merely another zealot? Or was Jesus the real Messiah, the long- awaited Deliverer, to whom the Law and Prophets pointed?
“Well researched, Empire of Secrets sweeps us into the past, over the Judean hillsides marred with political intrigue and spiritual upheaval. Today's themes are there as well: vivid characters caught up in betrayal, romance, secrets, and spiritual redemption.
Read an Excerpt
“Gaius, find your brother’s corpse. Avenge his death.” The words of Maximus Secundus sucked hope from his son like a medici’s leech. “Bring his remains home. Don’t trust anyone in Judea. And be careful where you put your foot.”
His father’s admonitions had not surprised him. But on this important day, Gaius Claudius Secundus had expected well wishes for himself, a family blessing or congratulations on his scholastic achievements at Militarium Romanusthe Roman Empire’s military institute. But there was none of that.
And now, after a quick handshake before sunup, his father departed for an important meeting with Tiberius Caesar. It had always been that way. His father’s thirst for money or conferences with his patrician friends in the Forum, secret meetings with the leaders of the Senate among colonnades, or reunions with aging centurions of his old cohort in the baths, had always occupied his father’s interests more than family. Then, there were the games, especially the gladiatorial contests that often drew the Man of Trade, as he was known, from his family. It was not that Father Maximus was uniquely derelict. All patrician men were similarly immersed, spending scant time with their wives and children. But on this day Gaius had expected man-to-man dialogue, old soldier to young officer. Not a brief admonishing monologue.
Disappointed, he watched his father, adorned in a toga of spotless white trimmed in purple, his arms cradling parchments, rush off amidst elaborate preparations already underway for the Ceremony of Prognostication. The temple augurs waited for dawn’s first light. But Father Maximus passed them on his way to his sedan litter. The Man of Trade could not be bothered by such religious nonsense. He was one of the dependable breed of patricians in Tiberius Caesar’s favor. Staunch allies of the emperor’s father had been purged. Maximus Secundus, and wealthy patricians like him, were now the beneficiaries of Tiberius’ enlightened Pax Romana.
When dawn finally broke pink over the eastern hills of Rome, the Senior Augur began his study of gauzy clouds and the twittering of birds. He searched for mysteries, patterns, anything that would forecast success or failure for Gaius Secundus’ grim mission. Several hours later, following the lengthy, ancient ritual of color and extravagant formalism, the augur predicted the mission would end in disaster.
Then Gaius endured the next venerable phasethe Rites of Dedication, the calling upon Jupiter and the Fates to attend his undertaking, and if, in the mysterious cosmic order, his life might be spared. Gaius chanted, knelt, and clapped his hands at all the customary times in the odd liturgy, his nostrils filled with the fragrance of smoldering incense, but he found little comfort in ritual. Finally, and not soon enough for him, the augur and his attendants departed, their robes swirling about them, chanting, carrying the golden cups of Jupiter and ebony staves crowned with glimmering, bejeweled deities.
To Gaius, the dire prediction could not plunge his spirits any lower on this bright spring morning. Apprehensive, he paced across the expansive marble portico of his father’s estate high on Palatine Hill. Surveying the religious procession moving down the brick-lined roadway, pain ached inside him. He moved back and forth, restless, resigned to duty. His fingers ran nervously over his day old signet ring. Wearing it testified to his recent commencement, with honors, from Militarium Romanus.
He whispered his brother’s name. “Marcellus.”
His eyes ranged over the palatial gardens and phalanxes of cypress lining the broad private roadway to the estate. Memories flooded his mind. Joyful times he and his older brother, Marcellus, had spent on the grounds pretending to repel barbarians, saving the Roman Empire like their father had done with distinction. He studied the roadway teeming with bare-chested slaves laying new bricks bearing the Secundus imprint, as if patricians and plebeians needed confirmation that the great road led to the Secundus mansion. He paused, his hand pressed to a marble column, when an official litter with eight bearers carting his father and the Proconsul of Judea came into view. A centurion followed on horseback leading a riderless black Arabian. Gaius sighed at the sight of his brother’s horse. He swiped his hand across his breastplate of leather scales.
“Gaius, I’ll miss you terribly,” his fifteen-year old sister called out as she ran to him. He draped his muscular arm over her bare white shoulders. “I believe I’ll be desolate without you. Will I ever see you again?”
He kissed the top of her head. “I’ll return, my Pella,” he said, doubting that the Fates of Fortune would ever look upon him again.
“Appolinia was here when you were with the augurs. She wept for you. You should’ve married her. She gave you this.” Pella removed a small cloth from the folds of her white linen toga. “Appolinia embroidered it for you.”
Gaius took the cloth and read threaded words of endearment sewn with great care in gold and royal blue. He slipped it inside his breastplate and pointed toward the roadway. “There they are. It’ll not be long, Pella.”
She thrust her cheek against his chest and hugged him. Two servants emerged from the house and swept the marble steps in preparation for the august visitor. Mother Daria Secundus stepped into a warm patch of sunlight on the portico, appearing regal in her purple toga, her gleaming black and silver hair piled high and decorated with ivory combs. Gaius and Pella walked slowly to their mother. Her olive eyes were puffy.
“Mother Daria,” Gaius said, his voice suddenly hoarse with emotion. “Take heart. I’ll not rest until I uncover the truth. I will, by Jupiter, or I’ll succumb in the attempt.”
The thought of losing him was like a dagger thrust. “Succumb? Put such a thought out of your head at once, Gaius. You must carry on the Secundus name. Appolinia was”
“I’ll persevere.” His arm drew her to him. “The gods shall be with me. I’ll not be abandoned. The Fates will not permit it, will they?” He watched his mother press her toga to her eyes, and he wondered about the gods. Doubt and anger had begun its corrosion three days ago when the news of his brother broke in upon his life of military privilege.
Are the gods alive or dead? If alive, then why did they abandon Marcellus? How could the Fates lose sight of him in Judea? Were they not omnipresent? Did their watch-care not extend to the Southeastern Provinces? If I allow one grain of doubt, then it could impair my mission.
What People are Saying About This
“What might it have been like to be living in Jerusalem at the very same time as Jesus? And what if you suddenly found your life intertwined with the most amazing man ever to have lived?
Empire of Secrets brings to life a story rich with history and intrigue as Gaius Secundus, a handsome Roman Centurion with a secret quest, enters the Holy City of Jerusalem just a few days before the crucifixion of Christ. What he finds there is a city in turmoil over the arrival of the man Jesus—who some claim is the Jewish Messiah while others brand him a dangerous heretic. Gaius finds interest in Jesus only as a means of solving a deep and painful mystery, the disappearance and possible murder of his brother. As the heroic Gaius doggedly pursues the truth, we are swept along into a world of political schemes, blackmail, jealousy, true love, and saving faith.
Written in the same vein as the classic novel (and subsequent film) Ben Hur, Van Dyke's forceful writing captivated me while the story's dazzling historical accuracy brought the streets of ancient Jerusalem to life in a way no other story has. Empire of Secrets is a novel you won't want to put down!” - Sharon Dymmel, Screenwriter/Producer, Three-time Emmy Award Winner
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent A must read. This is a mystery that will hold you spellbound. The description of the events and characters help you feel like you are an eyewitness to the story as it unfolds. I could not put it down.