They certainly got up to some hanky-panky in the good old days of the Roman Empire. Or should that be in the good new days of the Roman Empire? What if it the Ancient world hadn’t collapsed in the fifth century? What if Attila the Hun and his minions had failed to drive the Romans out of western Europe, allowing them to rule uninterrupted for two thousand years, their patrician sandal-clad foot placed firmly on the neck of the inferior Britons?
‘Dying to be Roman’ opens with someone, er, dying, and the body being discovered by our Celtic hero sleuth, named, er, Dai. ‘He looks pretty deceased to me,’ he mutters, observing the faceless corpse at the Augusta Arena, Londinium, Britannia Maxima. A quick DNA check with his wrist-worn identipad reveals the victim is Treno Bellicus, aka ‘Big Belly’, a star athlete in the upcoming Games.
The tone is set for this multi-layered, tongue-in-cheek, fast-paced detective romp through the cobbled alleyways and towering insulae of Londinium. In this city where togas meet hi-tech, and patrician matrons recline on couches or nip off in hovercabs to buy their designer stolas, an assassin is on the loose, despatching victims at the speed of light. What’s more, most of them have at least three names–Quintillas Publius Luca, Anna Belonia Flavia, Urbanus Hostilius Rufus– which makes the body count seem even higher.
Clearly what is needed to thwart this bloodthirsty villain is a clever detective, or, better still, two of them. Our sexy British Sherlock, he of the moody looks and bulging biceps, meets his match in the form of a miniature Roman Watson-ette in leather trousers with a nerve whip tucked into her belt.
The hunt is on, and the dynamic duo race from crime scene to crime scene, assisted by two giant wolf hounds and a handy contubernium of praetorians, trying to figure out who is murdering not just the lowly natives (who cares?) but also daring to knock off the crème de la crème of society, proper Romans from proper Rome.
The relationship between the two protagonists gradually develops from the instinctive mistrust between natives and colonisers to a mutual respect and growing attraction. Dai learns that Julia is not all she seems, and that her passion for justice applies to everyone, not just the ruling class. Julia learns that beneath his brooding exterior, Dai is intelligent and able to see beyond prejudices and stereotypes, a thinking woman’s Ross Poldark. But do they have a future together, this Romeo who has never seen Rome, and his Juliet, foster-sister to the mighty Tribune Decimus himself? Will Julia be able to put up with Dai’s passion for chip buttys with garam sauce, most of which ends up on his tunic? Will Dai be able to sit across the kitchen table without flinching as his beloved crunches on baby mice bones or nibbles a salad ‘with wafer thin curls of delicate roast peacock flesh served on a bed of rocket and watercress’?
But before they can sort out their romantic destiny, they have a killer to catch, and a lot of merda to shovel…
Readers looking for a cleverly-written, mash-up whodunnit with plenty to think about, laughs a minute, gore galore, two engaging lovers and a permanent sense of déjà vu all over again will adore this book. Bring on Dai and Julia Book 2!