In ancient Londinium, the governor’s physician becomes a reluctant sleuth.
It’s 83 CE and half-Roman, half-Britanni narrator Arcturus is serving as doctor and confidant to Agricola, the province’s governor. Arcturus’ duties also involve ministering to the locals. On a frigid December morning, the most arresting of Arcturus’ many visitors is Claudia Catussa, a tearful beauty who claims she’s come to warn Agricola of imminent danger. Vibius Maecenas, a Syrian spy who works for the Roman Emperor Domitian, plans to “harm” Agricola, paving the way for a new governor. Complicating the matter is the fact that Claudia Catussa is affianced to Maecenas. Before Arcturus can question her further, she slips away. Arcturus sends his assistant Bilicho to follow the mysterious woman while he informs the governor. In the meantime, however, someone brutally murders Maecenas, trussing him up like a sacrificial calf. Arcturus determines to solve the crime to prevent suspicion from falling upon the governor in this politically sensitive situation. As the tangled plot leads to additional deaths, Arcturus takes the reader on a colorful tour of this singular culture high and low, from jails and brothels to the corridors of power.
First-timer Stanley is sure-footed and enthusiastic about history (as witness her glossary and bibliography) and crafts a satisfyingly intricate puzzle, but her prose could be leaner and her dialogue less ornate. First of a proposed series.