A historical murder mystery set in the year 512.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 92 which includes the first chapter of the next mystery, the Vellum Scribe

Gaius Vitellus Argolicus is a former Roman praefect, known for his careful study of people and places which lead to fair judgments. However, he’s not good a politics and so he leaves Rome and returns to countryside. His old friend asks him to take a book to a scholarly young man. The man, Philo, lives along Argolicus’ route, so he decides to visit Philo’s family.

However, when Argolicus arrives, he finds that the house is in disarray because Philo’s father has been murdered. Servius Norbanus Pius was a man who didn’t care for the new king Theodrick’s reign and the way the king appointed new men in positions than had been long held by the sons of old Roman families. He had inherited a very profitable shipping business so his murder could affect a lot of people. Argolicus decides to investigate together with his mentor and slave Nikolaos. However, they have only a couple of days to investigate before their ship leaves.

Pius’ family tells that he was a dutiful father and husband but he spent a lot of time away from his family. He tried to mold his scholarly son into his image but Philo isn’t like his father. Pius’ brother runs the shipping business and lives in the nearby harbor town of Portus. Pius was the paterfamilias, the highest-ranking male who decided everything for his family members. Philo’s sister Titiana seemed to have been on the edge even before their father was murdered.

The short book is meticulously researched. This is the time when Rome is ruled by the Ostrogoths and the patricans, of course, resent that. I don’t remember any other books set in this time. Under Roman law, a murder is a family matter and it’s up to the family to find the murderer and then sue them. Agrolicus can’t help them officially, just as a favor.

The writing is a bit awkward at times but otherwise very readable except for some editing errors. Pius is not an agreeable man but someone who has a lot of political connections and so a lot of potential enemies. However, nobody is too obvious so Agrolicus must talk to a lot of people.

I enjoyed the story which brings Rome under Ostrogoth rule to life.

Altair has a Kickstarter project to fund a novel length Agrolicus mystery.

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