This is a great book for readers who enjoy Roman history — like I do. It’s the first in the Roma Sub Rosa series, mysteries which feature sleuth Gordianus the Finder. The year is 80 BC and Sulla rules Rome. Young lawyer Marcus Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius, accused of murdering his wealthy father. (The gruesome penalty for patricide is to be marched to the Field of Mars, brutally whipped, sewn into a sack with a snake, chicken and dog, and then chucked into the Tiber.) Cicero hires Gordianus to investigate. Rumor has it Roscius plotted the murder because his father threatened to disinherit him and leave the money to the unborn child of a prostitute with whom he was having an affair. As Gordianus pursues the truth, his house is vandalized, his slave Bethesda attacked and someone tries to kill him, more than once. Maybe, because he discovers something that could set Roscius free but implicate Roman Dictator Sulla in the process.
This is the first in a series of mysteries set in London after World War I. I am not a fan of recurring detectives because characterization in these books is minimal, and the plots usually fairly predictable. Here, too, I found the mystery element only so-so, but the atmosphere is so finely wrought the book is well worth reading. Maisie becomes a maid for Lady Rowan Compton after her mother dies. Lady Compton gets her a tutor, Maurice Blanche, a man who is also an investigator, when she discovers Maisie is smart. A good student, she earns a spot at university. Alas, war breaks out. Maisie volunteers as a nurse at the front where she meets an officer and falls in love. After the war, she apprentices with Blanche, eventually opening her own detective agency. Her first case involves The Retreat, a suspicious home for disfigured war veterans. Lady Compton’s own son signed over his fortune to them. With the help of a war veteran in her office, Maisie solves the mystery and resolves her war-time love affair.