I confess that when I saw the latest Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus mystery from David Wishart I didn’t bother reading the jacket. Just picked it up, paid for it and located the nearest bench.
Never a mistake with a Corvinus mystery and so this one proved.
Marcus’ twelfth adventure finds us in 35A.D in his house struggling with his accounts. The arrival of the consular Lucius Vitellius, described as a `homing hippo’ and a subsequent trip to the Palatine to meet one Isidorus means that our wise-cracking sleuth finds himself on the receiving end of an assignment from no less than the Wart himself. The brief? To discover who has attempted to murder the sixty year old Roman backed heir to Great King of Parthia, Phraates.
After pacifing the lamprey dishing Meton and the ever bookish Perilla, Marcus prompts goes to a diplomatic dinner with Vitellius, hosted by Phraates for the Parthian delegation. There we meet a list of people all of whom have motivation: Osroes, the Magian – an anti-Greek Parthian, Zariades – an unctuous Parthian courtier, Callion – a Seleucid Greek, Peucestas – a military eunuch, Tiridates – Phraates son, and Mithridates – the particularly nasty younger brother of the King of Iberia and future King of Armenia.
Promptly making an enemy of Mithridates and causing a diplomatic incident, just to protect the virtue of a dancer, lands Marcus in immediate hot water ending up with a beating in a Tuscan Way alley. Still, with the reckless abandon and grim determination that marks our sleuthing hero he sets off into the Parthian underworld of Rome. Just as well as Zariades ends up with his throat cut. A body, but not the expected one.
Conversations with Phraates, investigations into The old Batchelors and Mano’s, plus an ever growing threat from Mithradates means that Marcus has to put his family on the line again.
The mystery unfolds as Marcus moves from conversation to conversation, uncovering a web of deceit from his `paymasters’ that infuriates him but reveals a lot about multiple motives and secret dealings in the Roman/Parthian underworld until he finally realises that the `murder’ wasn’t a murder at all.
Marcus rapidly escalates his way through Nicanor, pepper merchants, Parthian and Syrian spice trading, Ostian knife gangs, the Three Graces brothel and many more as he threatens, bribes and coaxes information out of everyone to reveal a plot so complex and clever that to guess the culprits and motives from the outset would be blind luck. Oh, and he solves the mystery of the missing lampreys and manages to put one over Meton, who comes across like a Roman Ramsey at times.
David Wishart has settled down with his irreverant Corvinus mysteries and anyone who likes the overly carefree Claudia Seferius of Marilyn Todd will finds an equally affable character in Corvinus whose straight talking, justice loving sleuth cuts through Rome with an alacrity that is hard to put down.
Categories: David Wishart