In at the Death

In at the Death by David Wishart.  The transition period when a Roman emperor is about to die and a new one anointed is always rife with intrigue and conspiracy as one would expect when the most powerful position in the western world is available for the taking.  Even when the succession plans are widely-known, secret deals and alliances are formed in steamy bathhouses, grimy taverns and along the marble corridors of the upper-class.  So when purple striper Marcus Corvinus is asked to investigate the apparent suicide of a young member of the Aventine fire commission, he is unaware that he is becoming involved in a plot that includes several prominent Romans as they wait for Emperor Tiberius to die and his appointed successor Caligula to take over.

Corvinus is one those wise-cracking, rough private eyes beset on all sides both political and domestic that seem to populate the Roman avenues (see Lindsey Davis’ Falco or Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder).  His wife, Perilla, really runs the household and Corvinus has little control of his primary servants, the irritable chef Meton and the supercillous and well-connected major-domo Bathyllus.  Adding to Corvinus’ troubles in this book is a huge, ill-mannered Gallic boarhound on loan from a conveniently absent owner.

The mystery itself takes Corvinus from the training stables of the Greens racing team to Pompey’s theatre to the camp of the Praetorian Guards and he soon discovers that even the innocent-looking aren’t totally free from suspicion.

This is the fourth or fifth Corvinus mystery that I’ve read and Wishart does an adequate job of capturing the intrigues that are prevalent in imperial Rome.  The books are good enough that if your library doesn’t have them, you should order them through interlibrary loan (thanks to the Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma City for my copy), but they aren’t significantly different from the other series that also use this historical setting.

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