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Marilyn Todd

Virgin territory : a Roman mystery
Macmillan, 1996

Reviews:

In this sequel to I, Claudia, Claudia Seferius, recent widow of the rich wine merchant Gaius Seferius and less recent courtesan, again finds herself in the middle of murder, again the work of a serial killer, but much different from the one she exposed in the series starter. Again Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, struggling member of the Security Police, aspirant to the Senate and Claudia’s affections, is on hand to detect, and again is wrong in his deductions, but Claudia is also wrong in her initial conclusions though she eventually muddles through to finding the right culprit. Orbilio and Claudia again come close to an understanding (and both clearly want the other), but they each think the other is less interested and back off, taking refuge in banter - clearly a relationship to be followed up in sequels. Plagued by her old problem of gambling debts, the lovely , young and witty Claudia goes off to Sicily in 25 BC to escape her main creditor and to forestall a threat to her inheritance from a possible illegitimate son of Gaius. To save money and gain some standing in Agrigentum, she accompanies the just-retired Vestal Virgin, Sabina Collatinus, back to her large and dysfunctional family, a nasty set of characters, in which the strong and wicked abuse the weak and innocent, to the point of murder. In addition to the 3 murders, there is also a suicide, an illegal (and mistaken) execution and the unlamented death of the rapist-killer. Claudia, arrogant and bawdy, is not a particularly nice person and Todd doesn’t try to make her into into an altruistic role model, but she is tough and interesting. The other characters are less well-developed, but they are clearly enough delineated. The scene setting is fairly authentic, though British slang keeps popping up and there are a few un-Roman elements (as in calendar reckoning): Todd also does not know all the terms she uses, especially money. Hence, we have an ass (as) and a quadran (quadrans), but a reader would not be much thrown off. There is some swearing but almost no sex, so the books could certainly be used at the high school level. The mystery is not really a puzzle mystery (there’s not really any way the reader could have figured out the murderer), but it is all within a confined circle of possibilities. Don’t look for deep reflection or in-depth depiction of Roman life, thought and realia, but take most of what is said as reasonably accurate. History and real historical characters impinge only slightly on the story, and little will be learned of contemporary events. Todd is more in the light vein of Lindsey Davis than of Steven Saylor, but without the richness of detail of either. The sequel is Man Eater, in which Claudia is framed for murder. I intend to read it and expect to enjoy it too. -Fred Mench

- Fred Mench, 12/19/2005


Virgin Territory is one of a series of mystery novels set in the past, this time in Ancient Rome. At first the style is hard to get used to. Marilyn Todd's novel approach to dialogue saves the book from the ‘Greetings, noble cousin’ and ‘Die, then, like a dog’ which make so many books of this kind difficult to read. She avoids putting in large slices of history book in the guise of background but the historical detail is interesting, amusing and adds a great deal to the colour of the narrative. Once I had got used to the punchy style, I was hooked and will look forward to reading other books in the series. Claudia, the heroine is a believable new woman who can act with a lot of freedom and is never coy or simpering (unless it is part of her latest subterfuge). There's lots of tension, a very strong love interest, plenty of action, sometimes violent, and flesh and blood characters. It's an excellent escapist fantasy. If you like Xena, Warrior Princess, you will love this. Natasha Nightingale, From the February 1998 Reviews, published by the Historical Novel Society, Richard Lee, President.

- Natasha Nightingale, 2/1/1998

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