Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus Mysteries, based in southern Italy at the time of Ostrogoth’s rule.
Meet Argolicus, a learned man who turns detective at the bidding of neighbors who know him as trustworthy, wise, and fair. He collects evidence, deciphers politics, and digs into the deepest secrets of the human heart. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the self-restraint of Epictetus, the theology of Arius, and the empirical insights of Marcus Aurelius, and all sharpened to an edge by wry humor and ferocious curiosity.
Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king, while Constantinople rules the Roman Empire. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search.
Discover the world of long-ago Italy in the Argolicus Collection, four mysteries that cover the range from a small farm to rich families where politics and murder collide.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do now. I’m working on a modern crime novel with a female detective, Death of a Lonely Cloud, to be published this year. And, A cozy mystery for next Christmas for a new series featuring Miss Chocolate, a fluffy chocolate-colored cat who lives on a boat.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing since I was a child. I can’t imagine myself not writing.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? For me, the most difficult part of the writing process is building up the tension.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Argolicus was a real person, but not much is known about him. Argolicus leads the privileged and leisurely life of a Roman patrician under the Ostrogoth rule of King Theodoric. Raised in the tradition of privilege, he was schooled by a Greek tutor, Nikolaos, who is now his companion but still drills him in Greek and martial arts.
Argolicus was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae (iii 11, iii 12, iii 29, iii 30, iii 33, iv 22, iv 25, iv 29, iv 42) as praefectus urbis of Rome.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I outline the basic plot but planned scenes change as I am actually writing. I use the next plot point to make sure I’m headed toward it no matter how the scene changes.
What kind of research do you do? For the Argolicus stories, the research involved a lot of reading—many books in English and Italian. Plus, I went to Italy and interviewed history professors who referred me to more books. For each novel, I also interview experts in themes for the book, for example, civic structure and governance in the 6th Century for The Grain Merchant.
For the current novel, I took Detective B. Adam Richardson’s Writer’s Detective School, which is crammed with details about how a detective thinks and works. Plus, he has sessions where we can ask questions that pertain to our current work. I’ve also talked with the local coroner’s office and the sheriff.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest challenge is keeping my characters in sync with the times. For example, slavery is assumed and not an issue.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stay with your story idea. It’s your story. Write it. Don’t worry about genre or subgenre. Just write the story. The big test of writing is that you finish the story.
Visit the website at https://zaraaltair.com.