There are three new mysteries by U.K. authors on the market, two ‘political’ ones and one of greed.
“About the same time Sextus Papinius, who belonged to a family of consular rank, chose a sudden and shocking death, by throwing himself from a height. The cause was ascribed to his mother who, having been repeatedly repulsed in her overtures, had at last by her arts and seductions driven him to an extremity from which he could find no escape but death. She was accordingly put on her trial before the Senate, and, although she grovelled at the knees of the senators and long urged a parent's grief, the greater weakness of a woman's mind under such an affliction and other sad and pitiful pleas of the same painful kind, she was after all banished from Rome for ten years, till her younger son would have passed the frail period of youth.” [Annals, 6.49]
and runs with it. Largely ignoring the remaining text of this paragraph, Mr. Wishart uses Tacitus’ first sentence to construct “…my usual mixture, in the ‘political’ books, of fact and fiction.”
Once one has gotten over the usual shock of the amalgan of modern gumshoe language, thieves cant, Wishartisms, and even the occasional Yiddish (!) words, the story, as so often, becomes enthralling. Readers of Mr. Wishart’s Germanicus and Sejanus will not be surprised about the uncovering of yet another conspiracy, with a final unexpected twist. As usual, Mr. Wishart applies his extensive knowledge of Roman history to create a plausible storyline.
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Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis (St. Martin's Minotaur 2007, 352 pages) brings back the German priestess Veleda, originally encountered in The Iron Hand of Mars. Falcophiles will remember that Falco was sent across the Rhenus river into the wilds of the Germania to negotiate with the priestess, who then seduced Falco’s young brother-in-law, the military tribune Justinus Camillus. Or did she?
The years have gone by, Falco has moved up in the world and has become a relatively sober pater familias; and Justinus is married also, how happily, remains to be seen. Veleda has been captured and brought to Rome to be displayed in her captor’s ovation, but has managed to escape. A potentially major disaster, and this on the eve of the Saturnalia, festival of havoc and misrule! And Justinus has also disappeared. Falco needs all his ingenuity to find both of them by the end of the festival, the deadline given him by the Palace.
While all this sounds like one of the more rollicking installments in the mystery series, there is a definitely serious undercurrent in a parallel story of a potential serial murderer on the loose.
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A Coin for the Ferryman by Rosemary Rowe (Headline Book Publishing 2007, 288 pages) is a story of greed. Libertus, the mosaic maker of Glevum, Britannia, must solve a murder on the property of his patron Marcus Aurelius Septimus before the Lemuria, the festival for the souls of the departed, takes place. Mystery builds on mystery. Complicating the matter, the daughter of an an irascible tribal farmer has disappeared at about the same time. As Libertus sets to work, he is constantly belittled by the haughty guest, strange things happen, more bodies are discovered, and Marcus’ gatekeeper is murdered, and there seems to be obstruction all around.
As all the novels in this series, this book is written in a rather serious vein. Nonetheless, there is quite a bit to smile about, mostly about the young slaves in both households, especially the eager to please Maximus and Minimus, who are signed over to Libertus while Marcus travels to Rome and tend to finish each others sentences. Life in the villa, town life in Glevum, Libertus’ little household, and the hostile British farmers whom Libertus encounters, are believably portrayed. All in all a good book by a dependable author.