In late December 95 AD, Roman settlers in Britannia are preparing to celebrate Saturnalia. Innkeeper Aurelia Marcella's plans for a peaceful holiday are shattered when her brother brings bad news. An enemy in Rome is trying to destroy her family by spreading rumours that they are plotting against Caesar. Her brother has lost his job as a government investigator, the mansio is menaced by a gang of native criminals, and when a party of rich, demanding travelers arrive to stay, their quarrels and violence spill over into Aurelia's household. Then the Saturnalia banquet, highlight of the festival, culminates in tragic death. Aurelia's sister Albia is one of the chief suspects.
This second book in the series takes Aurelia from the quiet countryside to the busy new garrison town of York where she must contend with traitors and crooks, and face personal danger to protect her sister and help her brother. If she fails, her family will lose not just their mansio, but their lives.
Aurelia Marcella, the innkeeper heroine of Finnis's second first-century historical set in Roman Britannia (after 2003's Get Out or Die), is engaging enough, though her deductive skills will never threaten Miss Marple. Aurelia's household's preparation for the feast of Saturnalia are disturbed by the unexpected arrival of a large party of nobles, whose family intrigues may have an impact on her own. When a servant is murdered, apparently having been mistaken for his master, the innkeeper and her sister fall under suspicion, and thus have additional motive to identify the killer. Finnis's use of colloquial speech can jar, and her plotting is less complex than that of, say, Steven Saylor in his Roma Sub Rosa series. Finnis also is not Saylor's equal in integrating the history of the time she describes into her plot, but those readers more interested in a fast-paced tale than in becoming drawn into a created world will be satisfied. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Poisoned Pen Press
August 31, 2005
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