187 AD, Roman Britain. Libertus, an ex-slave turned pavement maker with a sideline in solving mysteries is freeing his slave and sidekick Junio, and adopting him as well. But when a body is found when the ground is being cleared for Junio and his wife-to-be’s new house, Libertus has to find a killer. But things are not what they seem – not least the murder victim themselves.
My “Original Sins” strand continues with this entry, from Rosemary Rowe, author of thirteen mysteries in this series, and recommended to me by Linda Murray, along with a list of other writers. I won’t have time to try them all, as I’m intending to draw this strand to a close at the end of March, but was this one the right one to choose from the list, or am I going to be wishing I picked another?
I had to risk diving into the middle of the series, primarily as this was the only book that my library has, and as such, I’m sure I’m missing some of the back-story. But the main characters were pretty well-drawn, if a little… indistinct at times. The book is narrated by Libertus, so we get a biased opinion of everyone – unfortunately he seems to like most people and as such, it’s hard to get a picture of them, as you don’t hear about their weaknesses. Everyone’s working together to solve the crime – which makes the list of suspects rather short.
And the crime itself has a lot of potential. The body of a woman is discovered very quickly to be a young man in a woman’s dress. So a) where did his clothes go and b) where is the woman that the clothes belonged to. Oh, and c) why is there a lot of money sewn into the hem of the dress? Another death occurs before the mystery is solved, but…
OK, fair’s fair, the book is riddled with clues that point towards the big picture. Rowe plays perfectly fair with what is going on and there is a clue for every bit of the mystery. Libertus is kind enough to have a few “I should of realised when X said…” exclamations to point us towards what the reader missed. And I missed most of them, but that’s partly as I’d mentally dozed off by the halfway point.
The main villain is pretty obvious, regardless of the clue, and the fact that anyone could believe that a poisoning was caused by a viper bite beggars belief – I know this is the second century but did no-one look for a bite-mark? They did in Ancient Egypt! But most of all, there’s a lot of talking to people and not a lot going on.
If I do revisit this series, then I’ll go back to the beginning, but there’s a feeling here of an author on autopilot. I can see the potential of this series – Roman Britain is an area untouched by other crime writers (I think) – and if we ever go to Rome, we have Commodus (him out of Gladiator) as Emperor – but unfortunately, potential is all I can see here.
So far the Roman Empire is putting in a pretty poor show so far in “Original Sins” – Furies was good, but was a thriller, not a mystery. So, dear reader, a recommendation please – a good, Roman Empire set, proper mystery. There must be one (apart from the two Doherty books that I reviewed before starting this strand).