The Vestal Vanishes by Rosemary Rowe
Review by Mark
"…whatever Lavinius might or might not know, one cannot keep this kind of secret from the gods."
It is these words, spoken by Secunda in a poor farmstead that prove the key to Rosemary Rowe’s theme in this latest Libertus mystery.
The story revolves around the impending marriage of Publius Martinus at the end of an auspicious sacrifice in Glevum to the once-Vestal Virgin, Audelia. Yet, before the feasting and Games can commence, Libertus is hurriedly summoned to his patron’s side to investigate the disappearance of the bride-to-be on the road from Corinium. Libertus is given no time to go home and explain his commission but is sent off with a suspect raedarius – in the same carriage that was to bring the missing Vestal and her niece, Lavinia, to Glevum – to retrace the steps of the fateful journey and discover the whereabouts of the Vestal. Along the way he discovers complicity and duplicity at hostels, farms, amongst slaves and those charged with the welfare of others until, finally, he uncovers the mystery of a very sad little girl and a woman who desires nothing more than a chance to live her life as she chooses away from both the critical eye of a paterfamilias who would deal nefariously with her future and the intransigent ethics of Roman propriety.
I have to say that Rowe delivers a tidy mystery. The reader is taken sweetly along on the journey that is Libertus mind as he both painstakingly looks for the inevitable clues that come up in his discussions with people and understands the fallibility of relationships that point to motive. Matters are never random, the culprit(s) are always found within three degrees of the victim and superstitious fear is a powerful tool that creates the situations that Rowe sketches us. If you wanted comparable authors, then Lindsay Davis or David Wishart are the obvious choices. Rowe is more serious in her writing, Libertus an older man who reluctantly sleuths through thinking, rather than the heady action of Falco or the casual levity of Corvinus, than these other two authors, but no less enjoyable for it.
Couple of odd spelling moments which are probably Kindle related but stand out as the editing of these books is normally excellent. One example is ‘torc’ is spelt "torque" – round about 4% of the way into the Kindle. It’s the third time I’ve seen that particular mistake on Kindle. Different authors for each time.
If you wish to enjoy a light read, a well constructed narrative, enough twists and clues to keep you interested, a character who is amiable if not enjoyable, then I’d recommend Rowe. I note that the Libertus novels have lessened in frequency in recent years. Is that a sign that the author is coming to a natural end for her British character? If it is, then, if you like Falco, I’d suggest you read these whilst you can.
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