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Rosemary Rowe

Germanicus Mosaic
Headline, 1999
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The year is 186 AD and Britain is firmly under Roman rule. In Glevum (Gloucester) lives Libertus, a freedman and pavement-maker, who has spent years looking for his wife from whom he was separated when he was enslaved. His patron is the influential consul, Marcus Septimus, who calls in his dues now and then in the form of investigative work. Outside the city lives Crassus Germanicus, a retired centurion who has acquired great wealth, a handsome villa and a house full of slaves. He is sadistic by nature and is hated by slaves and Romans alike. When his partially burned body is found at his villa no one regrets his death, but Roman justice must be seen to be done. Marcus Septimus asks Libertus to leave his work to investigate the murder. One of Crassus' slaves is missing and he is the obvious suspect but, of course, things are never what they seem. Every one of the slaves had motive and opportunity, as did a few Romans. There are plenty of red herrings here and Libertus is hard-pressed to unravel the tangled threads - so was this reader. As a murder-mystery I found the story lacked pace and tension. It was so plodding at times that I really didn't care 'whodunnit'. For me, Libertus (the protagonist) did not come to life - perhaps because the story is told in the first person. In fact the only character with any real substance is the murder victim. There were other irritations too. The inconsistencies in the repeated references to Libertus' wife left me wondering whether she was aged 8 or 18 when he last saw her. There were some odd descriptive phrases - what on earth are draughty flowerbeds? Nonetheless, I am always ready to be drawn into a period, especially one that I know very little about - I can be hoodwinked as long as it sounds convincing. The background detail here is rich enough but, unfortunately, doubt crept in with references to trencherman, barmaids, and stoking the boiler, to name but three. It made me question the whole background. Perhaps most of it is an authentic account of life in 2nd century Britain, but I was not convinced. - Celia Ellis From The Historical Novel Review (May 1999), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Celia Ellis, 12/19/2005

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