Nero's Concert

Nero's Concert

2.6 3
by Don Westenhaver

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


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.

Book length: 118,000 words

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Don Westenhaver
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Meet the Author

Don Westenhaver planned to become a Catholic priest, but left the seminary and joined the Marine Corps. The Marines trained him to be a Vietnamese interpreter, but then assigned him to be a platoon radioman near the DMZ. Returning home in one piece, he used the GI Bill to buy a home and finish college. As a finance executive in the oil industry, Don traveled frequently to Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa. His military and oil business experiences inspired him to write his first novel, an international thriller titled The Whiplash Hypothesis. Moving from the oil business to the car business, Don became a finance director for a Japanese auto company, gaining more inside knowledge of international business. During the 1990s, he became fascinated by the Asian Tigers, a group of former Third World countries such as Korea that were emerging into First World status. Inhabitants of very poor nations were suddenly enjoying huge improvements in their standard of living. He speculated that a relatively small amount of money could propel Vietnam into the same growth, because the culture prizes education and hard work. It only required an intelligent plan encouraged by a Communist minister who was secretly a capitalist. The result of this was Don’s second international thriller, The Red Turtle Project. During a vacation in Italy Don toured the ruins of Pompeii, which display in such vivid detail the lives of ordinary people 2,000 years ago, and how the Romans were so similar to us and so technologically advanced. For the next four years, he studied ancient Rome and created characters and a plot that begins with the Great Fire of Rome. Emperor Nero, usually portrayed as a psychotic monster, actually began his reign as an enlightened teenager guided by moral principles. The plot of Nero’s Concert illustrates Nero’s descent into madness as told by his best friend. The backdrop is the Fire, the search for who caused it, and the collision of the new Christian religion with Roman culture. Don has been married to his wife Ellie for over 37 years and they live in Southern California. They have two grown daughters and two grandchildren. Don and Ellie are recently retired, and plan to continue traveling, assisting four different charities, golfing, and of course playing with the grandkids. He is working on a fourth novel and is a member of the Southern California Writers Association and the Military Writers Society of America.

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Nero's Concert 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Horrible writing. Boring. No plot. Verbage is not consistant with the time period. Could not finish reading this ..this simplestic amaturish book.
LisaJYarde More than 1 year ago
In Nero's Concert by Don Westenhaver, flames engulf Rome, sparking murder and religious conflict that divides friends. Leading the investigation of the suspicious blaze is Rusticus, a former gladiator who is also now Emperor Nero's finance minister and close friend. When a woman, Camilia, appears in Rusticus' office with a death mask found on a Roman Senator, his interest peaks in many ways. Oddly, it seems as though the Senator did not die because of the fire. Someone might have been murdered him instead. As Camilia and Rusticus chase clues about the murder, more bodies turn up, bearing masks of those who were closest to Emperor Nero and the image of Rusticus' deceased wife. It is a painful reminder of what he has lost and threatens to derail the burgeoning relationship he has enjoyed with Camilia. Many of the Roman people are blaming Nero for the fire, as he has benefited from the destruction from a newer and larger palace. By contrast, Nero is particularly keen on seeing the new sect of Christians blamed for the disaster. Camilia is keeping a dangerous secret from Rusticus that could endanger both their lives and the welfare of everyone the pair loves. I liked the ease with which Mr. Westenhaver tells this story. The dialogue and descriptions are easy to follow. The characters were very clear-cut; it was easy to pinpoint the antagonists. The only person shaded in gray was Nero, dependent on Rusticus' point of view. Without giving away the ending, I did wonder how easily Nero and Rusticus could have parted without the Emperor making a more significant effort to find his lifelong friend. It seemed as though their friendship would have warranted a different resolution.