Wednesday, September 16, 2009
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
I’ve got a couple of historical mystery writers for your consideration, today.
Rosemary Rowe has created an extremely unusual (and generally reluctant) sleuth named Libertus, an ex-slave in Roman Britain who is a master in the trade of mosaics. A Celt who has more or less assimilated into Roman society, Libertus is more than happy to ply his trade; however, his work with mosaics has given him an eye for seeing patterns of all kinds, and he is frequently enlisted by his patron, Marcus Aurelius Septimus, the governor’s personal representative in the town of Glevum (modern-day Gloucester), to assist in sensitive political missions and in discovering the truth behind crimes, generally including murder, that pose a threat to the Pax Romana. A recurring, underlying theme, is the ongoing search by Libertus for his wife, from whom he had been separated many years before, and who had also been a slave. In the book I’m reading now - The Ghosts of Glevum - Marcus Aurelius Septimus, himself, is accused of a crime against the state, as the new military commander, Praxus, has died under mysterious circumstances in Marcus’ own home. His main hope for extricating himself from this life-threatening situation is the intelligence and determination of our hero, Libertus – who is desperately trying to avoid the coils of the law that are beginning to tighten around him, too. Although Rowe takes a very different approach with her Roman mysteries than Lindsey Davis (Libertus is far from being a wise-cracking professional investigator, like Marcus Didius Falco) , she is, like Davis, extremely well-versed in the history of the period, which makes for an instructive, as well as an entertaining, read. I believe there are now nine books in the series, and of the five or so I’ve read so far, I have nothing but praise.
Nick Revill is an aspiring young actor who has just landed a job with Richard Burbage’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, which stages its plays at the Globe Theater. The company’s plays are supplied by a talented fellow by the name of William Shakespeare. While thrilled to have found employment in his chosen profession, Nick notices that there are some eerie similarities between the events that have befallen the family of a friend of his, and a new play that Shakespeare has written – a little number called Hamlet. The similarities raise suspicions in the mind of the authorities, which ultimately touch upon the playwright, himself. Nick winds up with the uncomfortable responsibility of unraveling the mystery of his friend’s late father, who has died under mysterious circumstances, and whose beautiful young wife has remarried with unseemly haste.
Sleep of Death is the first in author Philip Gooden’s Elizabethan-era mysteries centering on Nick Revill and the famous troupe of actors known as the Chamberlain’s Men – and, of course, their far more famous playwright. Filled with humor and exciting scenarios, the mysteries are intriguingly plotted and highly evocative of the period. Gooden has published six novels in the series, so far, and seems to have moved on to another series of mysteries involving a Victorian-era lawyer named Tom Ansell (with which I am unfamiliar). Nonetheless, having read the first of the Revill books, I’ll certainly be picking up the rest of them.