A Whispering of Spies
Set in 191-192 AD in Roman Britannia, A Whispering of Spies features Libertus, Rowe’s sleuth in this series, accused of theft and murder. Seeking information about a newly arrived ex-lictor with a sinister background, Libertus’s innocent actions on behalf of his patron, Marcus Aurelius, become fodder for charges. How can he identify the culprit from prison?
Rowe takes great care with her historical details. At times her insertion of background in explanatory parentheses seems a little heavy-handed despite phrasing them in the narrator’s voice, but she keeps her reader in the know and doesn’t overburden the story. I particularly liked her accuracy with the large-scale issues of Roman life. Marcus, certainly a “good guy,” nonetheless gets a not-very-likeable depiction as an upper-class Roman whose unlimited sense of entitlement makes him view any inconvenience to lesser people like Libertus as no concern to him, even if the man’s life is destroyed by his negligence. And worry about a slave’s feelings? Leave that to Libertus, the real good guy.