Review of ‘Bodies Politic’ by David Wishart (Marcus Corvinus 13)

10615160Marcus Corvinus is a character whom I love as much as Marcus Didius Falco. I was immensely disappointed in 2008 when it all seemed to come to a crashing end in “Illegally Dead” and I tried to move on with the likes of Ruth Downie’s ‘Ruso’ novels or Rosemary Rowe’s ‘Libertus’ series. Yet, as palatable as those alternatives were, I sorely missed the wisecracking Corvinus, the oddly modern vernacular Wishart chooses to give his bright, wealthy investigator. The pairing of Marcus and Rufia Perilla, stepdaughter of Ovid, was in serious danger of being as iconic as Marcus Didius and Helena Justina. When Marilyn Todd stopped her adventures of the “champagne loving, irreverent Claudia Seferius” in 2006 I was consoled with Corvinus. Then, as we know it all stopped – publisher issues. The kind of thing that readers give not a fig for, yet are forced to endure.
And then, five years later I stumbled across Bodies Politic and the next – No Cause For Concern. Both kindled instantly; I then saw the upcoming ‘Solid Citizens’ was due in July and a big grin spread over my face.
Happy? I kid you not, I was delighted.
OK, I may be two years behind but I sat and read this novel in two hours, devouring every word. It was all so familiar; like the thumbed nose Wishart gives to the language – we have Marcus using words that didn’t exist till hundreds of years after his time, like: “Chop-Chop!”, “boy-band”, “top-bracket”, “Very bonny”, “In spades”, “snazzy”, “local wide-boy”, “rubber-necking”, and finally, the glorious sentence: “dirty-linen-furkling business.”
The plot is what you’d expect of Wishart – this time Marcus receives a mysterious visit from one Dion, freedman and nervous informant passing what purports to be a letter from the deceased Macro asking him to investigate the charges of treason that led to his passing. In a few pages we discover the letter is bogus but that doesn’t mean Marcus’ sleuthing appetite hasn’t been whetted and he trots off to see Caligula in order to get a sanction to investigate the “treason” and the “four top suicides in the space of eight months”. In turn this leads him to Alexandria to both help Perilla buy some wedding cloth, but, more importantly, see where civil unrest is brewing under the suspiciously laconic Governor Flaccus. It’s all very murky, the political maneuvering incredibly dangerous what with our hero dodging runaway carts, ad-hoc muggings, and obtuse suspects. In fact, as Marcus puts it: “this thing wasn’t like a straightforward murder with a definite victim and a definite perp. Oh sure, there were bodies enough, but they were bodies politic and they’d killed themselves…it wasn’t a matter so much of whodunit…as why it was done.”
The only topic that got uncomfortable was the rabid antisemitism of Agron’s wife Cass. I understand Wishart is setting up a riotous assemblage between the Greek and Jewish inhabitants of Alexandria as vital to the secondary plot but the vituperous monologue by the lady is repeated more often than is necessary. Sure, it shows how prejudice by the masses is based on vicious rabble-rousing rather than individual critical thinking, but I found it didn’t add anything to the plot.
Anyway, Marcus Corvinus is back and this reviewer is delighted….

Categories: Book Reviews, David Wishart

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