My Ramblings have taken me back in Time and Place to the first millennium of the Common Era, a time dominated by Rome, before and after its tumultous Fall.
Jerusalem is the scene of THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, by Frederick Ramsay (Poisoned Pen Press, 2014, $24.95). It’s the week of the Passover, and the Holy City is beset with unholy intrigue and violence. A rabbi from Galilee is making trouble, preaching an odd doctrine that makes the High Priest Caiaphas worried that the Roman procurator, Pilate, will call up more troops from Rome. Pile, however, has more to worry about than rabble-rousing preachers. He’s found standing over the body of a rival, literally red-handed. Who to call, to get him out of danger? Rabban Gamaliel, the leading jurist of the Sanhedrin, the expert on the Law, of course! Rabban Gamaliel, a descendant of the great sage Hillel, can only find Pilate innocent if he can discover who really killed the visiting Roman, which he does, using reason, deduction, observation, and a few good friends and bad servants. As he is doing so, another drama is being played out, one that will have repercussions than neither Gamaliel nor Pilate can imagine. Author’s Notes explain some of the more arcane historical facts behind this riveting tale.
Followers of the adventures of Lindsay Davis’s cocky Roman sleuth Marcos Didius Falco will be glad to learn that the next generation has taken up where he left off. THE IDES OF APRIL (Minotaur, 2013, $15.99) introduces Flavia Albia, Falco’s adobted daughter, now a widow, who has taken her father’s old profession, as well as his ramshackle apartment in a rundown section of the Eternal City. She’s been hired by a woman she despises to investigate an accident at a building site. Things turn nasty when the woman herself is murdered. More bodies pile up, and Flavia finds herself facing a killer with a truly unexpected modus operandi. Falco and family are all on the case, and the killer is unmasked. Flavia Albia is a worthy heiress to the Falco legacy!
In faraway Britannia, several emperoros later, Gaius Pereius Ruso has taken up his post as Medicus once again, in Ruth Downie’s SEMPER FIDELIS (Bloomsbury, 2013, $17.00). His latest problem would seem to be straightforward: a young recruit has fallen off a roof, apparently a suicide, but no one seems to know what led the youngster to such an end. To make matters worse, the Emperor Hadrian has decided to inspect his latest building project, a massive wall across Britain, dragging his wife and most of his court along with him. Ruso’s wife, Tilly, does some investigating on her own, and between them, the medicus and his woman uncover a nasty scandal in the ranks of the legions that could undermine the entire Roman army. An Author’s Note explains a few historical facts about Hadrian and his consort, and fills in some gaps in the story of the Wall.
THE SEVENTH TRUMPET, by Peter Tremayne (Minotaur, 2012.$16.99) takes place well after the Romans left Britain, but their legacy lives on in the religion they brought with them. Fidelma of Cashiel was trained in the Law, and was, for a time a religiuex, but is now released from her vows, and is once again at her brother’s side as brehon, legal advisor. When the body of a young nobleman is discovered in a nearby kingdom, she is sent with her husband Eadulf, to find out who he is and who killed him. The search leads to a mysterious monastery, rumors of rebellion, and a military buildup that might set all Ireland ablaze. It’s up to Fidelma to unravel this tangled web of intrigue that leads to the bedchamber of her brother, the King of Cashel. Another puzzle for Fidelma to solve, and another visit to an era barely known or understood.
Reviews provided by Roberta Rogow for her column Roberta’s Ramblings for the Jan 2016 edition of The Book Breeze.