The fifth story in the Argolicus historical cozy mystery series but can be read as a stand-alone. The others are short stories.

Publication year: 2021
Format: ebook

Publisher: Fervent Crux Press

Page count at GoodReads: 320

This historical book is set during the times when the Ostrogoths ruled Rome, specifically during king Theodoric’s rule.

Gaius Vitellus Argolicus was a Roman praefect for seventeen years, but now he has returned to the small town of Squillace and his father’s old house. He’s from a patrician family so he’s automatically one of the town’s leaders. When he first comes to town, he’s invited to join the town council’s meeting. He agrees and finds out that despite a good harvest, the town is starting to suffer from a grain shortage. This has caused unrest and forced the council members to talk about it. Nobody else wants to look into it so Argolicus volunteers. Argolicus thinks that he can just visit the biggest grain merchant, Quintinus, and ask what happened to the grain. Also, Argolicus’ mother is trying to arrange a marriage between him and Quintinus’ daughter.

However, Quintinus is away. Argolicus and the merchant’s daughter Proba get along well and agree to be friends, only. The next day Proba tells Argolicus that her father has been murdered. Argolicus agrees to find the killer.

Now, the scholarly former praefect who dislikes politics has two problems in his hands. If he can’t find out where the grain has gone, the poor townspeople will riot. Finding Quintinus’ killer is a more personal task.

This was a very good mystery. Argolicus doesn’t know the local people and he must talk to them to find out more about Quintinus so he could solve both the murder and the mystery of the missing grain. The setting is very well researched and comes alive in the story. The people are believable. While Argolicus has investigated crimes before in Rome, this is a new town with politics he doesn’t yet understand. The book has many short vignettes which show the life of ordinary people and add wonderful depth to the setting.

Argolicus loves his books. While he owns slaves, as is usual for the time, he’s a gentle master. He even rescues a young girl who has run away from her parents who were going to sell her to slavery. He gives the girl a home – but even that becomes a political gesture. Argolicus’ friendship with Proba also causes people to wonder about their relationship.

The two other significant characters are Nikolaos, Argolicus’ Greek tutor, mentor, and slave. Nikolaos is still gently teaching Argolicus to observe and make deductions. Quintinus’ daughter Proba lives with her parents, but it quite an independent-minded young woman. She is her father’s accountant which was unusual for women at that time. Her father’s death pulls the rug under her life, but she’s determined to help clear her father’s name.

This was a very enjoyable cozy mystery that brought to life the people and the setting of the times.