The Ides of June: A Libertus Mystery of Roman Britain

Written by Rosemary Rowe
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In Glevum (modern Gloucester, England) on the 13th of June in 193 AD, a messenger arrives at the roundhouse of Libertus, a pavement builder. He delivers a strange request from Libertus’ patron, the magistrate Marcus, to come to his villa immediately. Libertus suspects the summons has to do with the recent murder of Emperor Pertinax and rise of Julianus, who seized the throne by bribing the Praetorian Guard. Provincial armies throughout the Roman Empire are in revolt. It being an Ides day, most businesses are closed, so Libertus puts on his toga and presents himself before Marcus in his atrium. Libertus is astonished to learn that, as a supporter of Pertinax, Marcus’ life is in danger: he received an anonymous threating letter. Marcus asks Libertus to smuggle his wife and family to safety in another town. When Libertus learns that other Glevum officials have received similar intimidations, and one has been poisoned, he is drawn into a hunt for the mysterious killer while safeguarding Marcus’ family.

Sixteenth in Rosemary Rowe’s series set during the 2nd-century Roman Empire in Britain, this fascinating novel will appeal particularly to those unfamiliar with that era. The historical details are well presented, especially the turmoil within the empire’s hierarchy. The descriptions of daily life, cuisine, roundhouses, villas, baths, and the countryside are vividly narrated. Readers will feel as if they have journeyed with the party, and travel is risky even along the short distance between Glevum and Aquae Sulis (present-day Bath). The relationships between citizens and slaves are deftly handled; it may come as a surprise that five- and six-year-old children were pressed into slavery. The introduction of other characters, their issues, and the murder mystery adds depth into the plot. Highly recommended.