The title of Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus’ latest mystery appears to indicate a mystery inextricably linked to the Roman tribal voting centuries, but this proves somewhat erroneous as we plunge into the murky politics of Latium and the apparent bad feeling between the Latins and the Romans (portrayed as decidedly one-sided). Marcus and Perilla are off to Castrimoenium to visit Marcus’ stepdaughter, Marilla, indulge in a wine-tasting contest at Pontius’ against a sheep, explore the general environs, oh, and solve a couple of murders along the way. Shortly after their arrival one of the two candidates for the local censorship– Vettius Bolanus, ex-fiance of Sulpicia, is found murdered in his own loggia (Concordius being the other candidate) and Marcus is called in by Libianus to solve the case before the potentially inflammatory Latin Festival. What results is Marcus having to understand the complex relationships between a corona civis decorated ex-centurion Spurius , his son-in-law Rufinius, the aedile Ruso, the property dealer Decidius and the anti-Roman Flacchus. Throw in a particularly nasty butcher, Euxperius and the Alban Brotherhood and you develop a severe case of things escalating out of control.
Marcus’ habitual case-reminiscing with Perilla drops off compared the the last two novels and this is no bad thing though he manages to replace it somewhat with Marcia Fulvina’s thoughts, the elderly aunt of the current senior consul, Persicus, the latter to whom Wishart approportions buffoon-esque tendencies.
There are multiple plot threads running through Wishart’s latest but he manages to tie them all in neatly and plausibly, sending us down many dead ends. A case of many motives for the first murder but no realistic suspect being the culprits. The characterisation is delightful, from the Boudicca-esque Sulpicia, to the inexperienced but knowledgeable Flacchus, to the dour old veteran Spurius and the action moves along at a good clip. Humor abounds, no more so than when Marcus indulges in a wine-tasting competition – Wishart has built him up to be somewhat of a connoisseur (without degenerating to drunkenness) over the preceding episodes – and loses to his ovine relative.
The two preceding offerings – ‘Last Rites’ and ‘White Murder’ has slipped slightly compared to the previous but Wishart has served another fine offering with this current book. It is not often you find a series where you want the adventures to continue for a very long time. Lindsey Davis’ Falco is one, Saylor’s Gordianus another….you must add Wishart’s Corvinus to those two peers for A Vote for Murder further proves Marcus Corvinus’ place in the Roman Murder Mystery.