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Alfred [Leo] Duggan (1903 - 1964)

Three's Company
Coward-McCann, 1958

Reviews:

After a brief prologue for the funeral of Sulla, the story proper starts in 49 BC, just after Caesar has crossed the Rubicon. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the praetor urbanus, needs to decide whom to follow, Caesar or Pompey, so he talks with his wife Junia, a childhood friend of Caesar and a much more incisive and decisive person than her husband. Lepidus had been elected with Optimate support but his father had died for the Popular cause & Lepidus himself three years before had opposed the Clodian gangs. Lepidus hopes, as he does throughout the book, that fighting (& taking sides) can be avoided and people come to terms. He asserts dogmatically that proscriptions can never happen in Rome again. Pompey himself visits the house incognito and tells Lepidus that he must leave Rome with him and the rest of the Senate, on peril of his life. Lepidus flees with Pompey but, on the advice of Junia, detours around to Caesar’s lines and joins him. The rest of the book tells the story of the next 13 years (plus a short epilogue jumping down to the time of Lepidus’ death), cataloging the events of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, the assassination of Julius Caesar and the subsequent confused events, during which you need to keep checking to see who’s on whose side, culminating in the formation of the second triumvirate of Lepidus, Mark Antony & young Caesar (Octavian). The proscriptions follow, as does the fighting between the murderers of the deified Julius and the triumvirate. Duggan gives substantial coverage of the role of Sextus Pompey at various stages in the fighting and aligning and carries the story through the fighting between Lucius Antonius and Fulvia against Caesar’s position and down to Octavian’s stripping Lepidus of his powers (twice: once after Perusia - though Lepidus was given Africa to govern, and again after the Sicilian campaign, in which Lepidus tried to oust Octavian from his position, only to have all his legions desert to Octavian. The story is seen from the perspective of Lepidus (though he is not the narrator), except for short, chapter-ending scenes of Clodia with various lovers (including Catullus), in which she comments inconsequentially on Lepidus. Lepidus is presented as a good man and loyal Roman, but indecisive and stolidly obtuse, though he improves his command skills over the course of the book. His principal aim is to act worthily of the Aemilius Lepidus name. We see him as a man who often dithers, but dithering generally turns out to be the right course - except in a few crucial career-making or breaking situations when it harms him. And then at the end, when he does make a decisive move, he bungles it - not by much - and loses everything, except the position of Pontifex Maximus. Mark Antony as skilled in military matters but given too much to drink and carousing, though he is good spirited. Octavian is shown as cold and calculating. None of these characterizations deviates much from standard versions. Marcus Agrippa is said by others to achieve his position by being the boy-friend of Octavian, but that is not shown or said by the narrator. Fulvia is astute but licentious, Junia astute and restrained, helping Lepidus but aware of his limitations. Duggan writes well and has lots of detail about Roman life and attitudes plus a wide cast of real historical characters engaged in real historical events. He fills in bridging events and details of larger events, but it all seems pretty accurate or reasonable. The novel will give the reader a clearer view of what happened after the assassination of Caesar than Shakespeare does and it does explain how a man who was Master of the Horse under Caesar could be such a useful but minor member of the triumvirate. Duggan suggests that if Lepidus, at the end, had not been uncharacteristically neglectful of his troops’ comfort one night and had not shed wounded Octavian the next day when the younger man was trying to win over Lepidus’s troops, that Lepidus might not have lost his position and might even have improved it over Octavian, but Lepidus, as Duggan presents him, had been carried away with his own self-importance and failed in political sharpness. There is nothing in the novel that would make it inappropriate for a good reader of any age, but the history-laden nature of the novel might make it of less interest to most non-adult readers or even to the very casual adult reader. Given the otherwise good historicity of the work, it is odd that Duggan throughout refers to or has his characters refer to Pompey as Pompeius Maximus (2 degrees of comparison higher than Pompey himself did). The characters are reasonably vivid and the story-telling clear though dense. Alfred Duggan has written a number of historical novels, including 2 other Roman ones, Children of the Wolf and Winter Quarters. I recommend Three’s Company to any serious reader who wants a close look at the events from just after the Rubicon to just before the confrontation between Antony and Octavian. This is the only novel in my database of over 1450 that deals in any detail with Lepidus, versus about 11 on Augustus and 10 on Antony (most often with Cleopatra). There are about 25 novels that center on Julius Caesar. So, everyone should give Lepidus his chance to be heard and this novel is his only option. -Fred Mench, 6/99

- Fred Mench, 6/1/1999

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