The Price of Freedom
In AD 193 in Glevum (present-day Gloucester) in Britannia, Libertus, a mosaicist, is dining with Septimus, the senior magistrate at his grand villa. Feasting while reclining on the dining couch, Libertus learns of the fiery death of several councilors, and Septimus encourages him to stand for the position of Duumvir (magistrate). Momentarily, a courier informs them that the tax collector, Flauccus, has hanged himself, leaving the message: “Gambled everything and lost…” Libertus is sent to attend a wedding in Uudum on Septimus’s behalf, and is also directed to investigate whether the tax revenue was stolen and can be recovered. Libertus, in a sleuth-like manner, uncovers clues that point to Flauccus’s murder, and sets about identifying the perpetrator while facing danger and nearly losing his freedom.
Although this is the seventeenth book in Rosemary Rowe’s Libertus mystery series, it reads much like a standalone. The narrative, written in Libertus’s humorous first-person voice, adds to the plot’s mystery. In keeping with her theme of freedom, Rowe also exposes the treatment of slaves by including some despicable practices into her account, such as selling of their hair as a cash crop. Although a captivating whodunit, the story’s appeal is in the masterly descriptions of the life and surroundings of those times in Britannia.