Political cross-currents lead to murder in ancient York.
It’s 98 CE in the Roman province of Britannia. Innkeeper and sometime sleuth Aurelia Marcella (A Bitter Chill, 2005, etc.) tells of the arrival of a gravely wounded farmer named Belinus at her establishment. With her twin brother and business partner Lucius away, it falls to Aurelia to have the nearest doctor summoned. He arrives too late, and Belinus dies, but not before summoning Aurelia to his deathbed with the urgent message that the Gauls, working for an unknown but powerful man, are trying to usurp all the land as a prelude to a standoff against Rome. When Lucius returns from a spying mission for the empire, Aurelia fills him in on recent events, and the pair escorts Belinus’s body on the journey eastward to his coastal home, partly out of duty—Belinus was a valuable source of information for Lucius—and partly out of curiosity. Their odyssey isn’t arduous but it’s eventful. They rescue a shepherd boy, lose a cache of gold and, at the shore, find a wrecked ship that’s apparently disgorged a band of dangerous pirates onto the land.
Finnis’s well-crafted prose subtly weaves authoritative detail into a believable portrait of everyday life near the turn of the millennium. More historical adventure than conventional mystery, but highly readable and endlessly absorbing.