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A Bitter Chill
Aurelia Marcella Mysteries, No. 2

by Jane Finnis

      I've read enough historical mysteries to really appreciate someone staking out fresh territory rather than offering something that may be enjoyable but still begs to be labeled the next [insert established author's name]. Jane Finnis does this with her Roman series featuring Aurelia Marcella, a female innkeeper. Ms. Finnis stays true to the customs of the time by having Aurelia's brother Lucius the mansio's (inn's) legal owner, but Aurelia's clearly in charge (I suspect that happened more often than we might think). And while the setting is Roman, it's the shaky British frontier of the empire, not the more usual Rome itself. The mansio and frontier settings provide a natural context for the stories to be filled with a variety of native and Roman characters, with inevitable conflicts among them. A Bitter Chill is second in the series, with each book working well as a standalone. There's connection between them, but you don't have to have read the first to enjoy the second, nor does reading the second spoil the first.

95 AD. Late December means cold and snow, but also the joys of Saturnalia, with special decorations, feasts, and gifts. Aurelia hopes business is poor, so she and her staff can just relax and enjoy the holiday. Not a chance. A party full of demanding, rich, and powerful Romans arrives. Which is bad enough, but when one of them is murdered, fingers point immediately at Aurelia and her sister. Not that life was all smooth sailing before. Lucius has appeared just long enough to explain that trouble will keep him away for the holiday, while a local protection racket has offered a taste of what could happen if Aurelia doesn't co-operate. Aurelia may be resourceful and clever, but the stakes this time are her inn and maybe even her life.

I really like this series. The author clearly knows and enjoys her setting, bringing it to vivid life, populating it with interesting characters that you are amused by and care about. The style is light and casual, making for easy reading. Recommended.

The Book

Poisoned Pen Press
September 2005
Historical Mystery (Roman Britain 95 AD)
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2005
© 2005