I’m so excited that this is now out. I was lucky to be a beta-reader and I thoroughly recommend it. If you like historical fiction and/or crime fiction this is for you.
It is AD 224 and Rome’s administration wants to know if Britannia’s silver mines are depleted (as their controller claims) or if the empire’s silver is being stolen at source. Who better to send to audit fraud in such a dank and uncivilised colony than Frumentarius (Emperor’s investigator) Quintus Valerius, who fought in the Emperor’s Caledonian campaigns fifteen years ago in his teens, so knows the lands. His old Tribune, who saved his life back then and has since risen to Provincial Governor, has asked for Quintus by name.
Quintus is, if not happy, at least relieved to leave Rome. Since a scandal drove his father from the senate, his snobbish wife (a marriage arranged by his snobbish mother) is divorcing him. His house is up for sale and his mother intends Quintus to leap into action to clear his father’s name and reclaim the family reputation. Quintus would rather slip quietly away.
Even so, as long-buried memories surface (violence, comrades, a girl), Quintus wishes he had declined the summons. As well as Roman politics, murders and a suspicious dearth of silver from the mines, there are rumours of a resurgence of Druidism in the local tribes. To add to his problems he finds himself assigned Tiro, an illiterate drunk, as a very unpromising assistant: they dislike each other on sight.
A great set up for a frumentarius procedural, then: mismatched investigators, tribal unrest, colonial corruption and complications – including, of course, that girl, Julia Aureliana, now a powerful tribal leader and healer. Can the three of them overcome their mistrusts and different backgrounds to solve a murderous plot before they become its victims?
Quintus has a resigned dignity at life’s exactitudes; a quiet man with interesting depths as we get to know him. His companions also come vividly to life as the story progresses, and the landscapes are beautifully drawn, from Rome’s administrative refinements to the wilds of the Mendip Hills. (I know the latter, having grown up in Somerset. We’d call the old mining hollows and humps “gruffy ground”.)
Who is behind the silver thefts and murders? Just how high does corruption extend? Why is someone deliberately stirring up religious unrest?
There are nods to Lindsey Davis’s The Silver Pigs with the missing Britannia silver and a romance, but Rogers’s Quintus is a very different character from Davis’s wise-cracking detective, Falco, and the plot twists completely original.
I gather this is book one of a planned series and I can’t wait to read what Quintus, Tiro and Julia find themselves up against next.