A Roman Death
by Joan O’ Hagan
Black Quill Press

"Lucius Scaurus? He served under Scipio in the African war against Caesar. After the battle of Thapsus, he turned up in Rome... his mother fixed it."

It is 44 B.C., and Julius Caesar has won the civil war. The Fufidius family has a pleasant estate in the Tusculum hills, away from the Roman crowds. Helvia (Fufidia’s mother) learns that her daughter was seen dancing with the peasants while she was away, a taboo for one of her station. But Helvia learns from her husband, Fufidius, that her daughter has now been promised in marriage to one Lucius, son of Marcus Scaurus, a former senator living next door. Helvia had better plans for her daughter, and when her son, Quintus, arrives home from his studies in Athens, he asks some poet friends about Lucius. They paint him as a coward who fled the battle at Thapsus after playing the passive role in gay sex with another soldier—another Roman taboo. Gossip flies, and Lucius is shamed by Helvia’s poet brother. Lucius exacts revenge on Quintus, who was there. But the marriage plans are unaltered until the pre-nuptial feast, where Helvia’s hopes are satisfied.

In this page-turning murder mystery set in ancient Rome, the author has skillfully woven historical facts with a gripping narrative that illuminates both the sophistication and barbarity of ancient Rome. Her characters have motivations and conflicts a modern reader can sympathize with. The plot is truly masterful, but there is the underlying theme of giving a voice to the women of this period, something that the written historical record handed down to us rarely does. These women must cope in perhaps one of the most patriarchal regimes, and they use sex, magic, and even murder to gain what little power they can. Readers should be prepared for a flurry of emotions as the women subtly outwit the men while historical figures like Cicero and Julius Caesar try to rule.

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