Monday, February 1, 2016

Trade Secrets (Marcus Corvinus Mystery) by David Wishart

The Marcus Corvinus Mystery Series is one a handful of detective mysteries set in Ancient Rome that are currently running.  Trade Secrets is the latest book in that series.  It is as entertaining as the predecessors but doesn't have a link to the Emperor, who during the course of this story is Claudius, having just taken over the throne after the murder of Caligula.

The author sets his detective apart by having his upper-class detective narrate his own mysteries in a journal or memoirs fashion in a snarky, colloquial-British tone, showing up the man's lazy, slightly obnoxious character, and his underlying better attributes.  The narrator's comments suggest it is a diary of sorts, written just when the case has been resolved.

Some of those better attributes of Marcus Corvinus are his desire for truth and his dedication to protecting his family from harm.  Marcus Corvinus enjoys a good puzzle and frequent tipples at wine bars.  His wife, Perilla, is his sounding board.  The continuing story of his family and life in general comes between the investigative work, which begins right away with someone bringing him a case to investigate.

The author writes with the assumption that his readers know their history basics and many specifics too, like the traditional Roman clothing and the caste system, as can be seen in this quote:
...most of the punters are plain mantles at best, with a fair sprinkling of freedmen... The purple-striper brigade wouldn't be seen dead doing their drinking and social networking there.

We are dropped down into busy, cosmopolitan Rome, and treated to much local color, including addresses and neighborhood reputations.  A map of Ancient Rome with the locations for the book marked would have been a nice accompaniment to the story, actually.

While some of the language and situations may feel out of time and place, they are actually quite in line with what we know about Ancient Roman society, albeit translated to a British vernacular.

The author emulates the popular Roman novel style from the Roman era, even down to his narrator's vulgar tongue and earthy sense of humor.  If you are sensitive to vulgarities, this isn't the book or series for you.  The story of this solid entry in the series is tied up nicely in the end.

The author skillfully fills the reader in on what he needs to know about the relationships between the regular characters, and about the narrator's past.  The book uses the British single-quote in place of the double-quote, which may annoy or slow down some readers.

In the end, this is a private investigator story, with our investigator chasing down clues and suspects, having to face some danger from heavies, and to deal with men and women from all levels of society who are invariably hiding things.

This is a long and well-established series.  If you wish to read the books in order, here is the series list:
  1. Ovid (reviewed on this site)
  2. Germanicus
  3. Sejanus
  4. The Lydian Baker
  5. Old Bones
  6. Last Rites
  7. White Murder
  8. A Vote for Murder
  9. Parthian Shot
  10. Food for the Fishes
  11. In at the Death
  12. Illegally Dead
  13. Bodies Politic
  14. No Cause For Concern
  15. Solid Citizens
  16. Finished Business (reviewed on this site)
  17. Trade Secrets (reviewed on this site)
  18. Foreign Bodies (reviewed on this site)

From the book's description:
The intriguing, witty and irreverent new mystery featuring Ancient Roman sleuth Marcus Corvinus

May, AD 41. The emperor Claudius has acceded to the throne, and the citizens of Rome look forward to an era of peace and stability. Not so Marcus Corvinus however, who finds himself embroiled in not one but two investigations. A friend of his wife has asked him to look into the murder of her brother, found stabbed to death at the Shrine of Melobosis. A wily businessman and notorious womaniser, no one seems to have a good word to say about Gaius Tullius, not even his less-than-grieving widow. But who would have a good enough reason to want him dead?

At the same time, Corvinus’s daughter comes across a dead body in the Pollio Gardens, and urges her father to investigate. At first Marcus refuses to get involved – but when his enquiries lead him to Ostia, Rome’s busy trading port, he uncovers a disturbing connection between the two deaths.

Here is a direct link to the book at

Please visit the author's website.

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