Amazon.co.uk: alas, this title appears to be only available second-hand in the UK - but try your local library
Amazon.ca $ n/a
Sextus Verpa, a hated informer to the paranoid Emperor Domitian, is found stabbed to death and Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus – Pliny the Younger to you and me – is called to investigate. Well, not so much to investigate, but to ascertain the guilt of one of Verpa's Jewish slaves – 'traitors and atheists, as they are'. On the basis that if one is guilty then all of the others must have known about it and are therefore complicit in the murder, their fate is to be burned alive in the arena once the Roman Games have been completed. Pliny has fifteen days to find the truth.
It soon becomes apparent that the main suspect was innocent, but Pliny's task isn't made any easier when the slave is murdered whilst in confinement.
It's all in here: body in a locked room, suspects and motives, people not being who they appear to be, a drunken bawdy poet who finds himself assisting Pliny, a mysterious man with his arm in a sling, religious overtones and political plots.
Poor Pliny; knowing he is inadequate in terms of detection, he stumbles from conclusion to conclusion, all of which prove to be part of the solution but not all of it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this romp. The characterisation of Pliny was excellent, wise, naïve and very, very fallible. Those of a squeamish nature may not like some of the methods of torture and execution that the Romans employed, but fortunately they are not too gruesome – merely matter of fact. There is quite a lot of sexual activity and innuendo but nothing that we might not expect from those 'decadent' times.
“Infamy, infamy! They've all got it in for me....”
© Richard Tearle
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