Solid Citizens

Man, I’m excited about the books I’ve been getting to review recently. Before receiving David Wishart’s new novel Solid Citizens, I’d already read Ovid, Germanicus, and Sejanus, also Roman mysteries by the same author. I discovered that Solid Citizens is actually the fifteenth Marcus Corvinus mystery, and immediately requested the intermediate books from my library.

Marcus and Perillia, now middle aged, are visiting the home of their adopted daughter and son-in-law, when — of course — there’s a brutal murder in the countryside town. As this is the fifteenth time that Corvinus and a corpse have been in the same place at the same time, Perillia responds with a somewhat exasperated Again, dear? Must we? but their daughter jumps into the investigation excitedly. She might not be Corvinus’ biological daughter, but she’s definitely his successor, munching on huge meals while discussing bodies.  (Don’t worry, Perillia always comes around.)

Germanicus has a much more epic scale, weaving the mystery around the mysterious deaths of the Julio-Claudians, and featuring prominent historical figures. In Solid Citizens, though, Corvinus is having a Winter Festival holiday in a quiet town when the mystery unfolds. City reputations are at state, and not the fate of the entire Roman empire (and therefore much of Western civilization), but a mild and middle-aged Corvinus still gets up to his old tricks, harassing the local bigwigs and snooping around.

Many delightful historical novels are ruined by a too-modern protagonist. It’s hard for me to get past a character who’s well-read and well-bathed and socially conscious in ways that make no sense for the time and place.

But Marcus Corvinus is a Roman. He munches Roman meals, even if dormice and garum might not be appealing to modern readers. He snarks about political machinations, accepting a certain level of corruption and bribery, but too much smacks of an unseemly greed. He accepts slaves as his due, as well. Meton, the Corvinus household’s temperamental chef, has been left behind in Rome, but Bathyllus, the proper butler, has accompanied the household to make sure standards don’t fall, even on holiday.

The mystery unfolds as Corvinus starts nosing around, turning up secrets in an upstanding prominent family, and — as usually happens whenever Corvinus pries — turning up several extra scandals as well. Another wonderful Roman adventure from David Wishart, and good motivation for me to hunt down the remaining Marcus Corvinus mysteries.

Originally written June 5, 2013

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