Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Buried Too Deep"

Jane Finnis is the author of three Aurelia Marcella mysteries, starting with Get Out or Die and A Bitter Chill.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest title in the series, Buried Too Deep, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of my book with some trepidation. Perhaps it included a major plot spoiler which I'd rather not quote, or consisted of two measly lines at the end of a chapter. But I'm in luck. The page is full, and quite representative of Buried Too Deep.

It's a historical mystery, and page 69 is about the first of several crimes that innkeeper Aurelia Marcella must solve. The scene is the ancient Roman Empire - specifically the province of Britannia, on the northern edge of civilisation. The year is 98 AD, which should be a time of peace and plenty for Aurelia; she is a Roman settler living on the road to York, and wants nothing more than to run a prosperous inn, and live at peace with her neighbours, both fellow-Romans and native Britons. But do they want to live at peace with her?

Aurelia is the narrator, and the main sleuth. This is unusual for a Roman-era mystery, but I wanted to look at life in the period from a woman's point of view. The Roman system gave women little legal or political power, yet Aurelia, like smart women throughout the ages, manages to live her life the way she wants to; conveniently, her twin brother Lucius is legal owner of the inn, and often around to help his sister.

On page 69 Aurelia and Lucius are investigating the death of a native British farmer. They have promised to avenge him, because…no, that would be a spoiler. They question two of his family, Divico and Esico, to get as much information as possible about the outlaws who attacked him, a band of raiders from Gaul who are plundering farmers and stirring up enmity between British tribesmen and Roman settlers. When they realise that the only witness to the attack, a shepherd boy, is alone in an outlying pasture, they fear he may be in danger; they are also afraid for their own sister, who lives nearby with her husband and small children. They are right to be afraid. Vicious feuding between landowners erupts into murder, and secrets from the past threaten present happiness. Aurelia faces her share of danger as she tries to unravel a tangle of deceit and half-truth.

From page 69:

“How many men?”

“Three. Strangers, long hair and beards, and weather-beaten looking. Spoke like foreigners. Gauls, they thought.”

“Belinus told me that the men intended to kill him, but some travellers on the highway scared them off.”

Divico scowled. “That's right. We thought he'd had a lucky escape. Only now…well, anyhow, he was in a bad way, his ribs bashed in and his leg cut, but he said he'd be all right if he just rested up a while. Illiana tried to watch over him through the night, but what with the baby and everything, well, it was too much for her. By morning he was worse, much worse, hot and feverish, talking nonsense, and his leg was still bleeding. So I asked one of the neighbours to take him down to your Greek doctor at Oak Bridges. I couldn't go myself, in case of more trouble here.”

“Where's the shepherd boy now?” Lucius asked Divico. “Could we talk to him?”

“With the sheep still. About a mile along the road, like I said.”

“He's on his own?”

Divico returned Lucius' sharp look. “Of course he's on his own. I can't spare an extra hand for shepherding, especially now.”

“That's not what he means, Divico.” Esico looked at Lucius. “You think Cattos may be in danger, don't you?”

“I'm afraid it's possible. If the attackers realise that Belinus is dead, so the lad is the only person who could recognise them again, they may come back for him.”

Divico's expression was close to panic. “By the Dagda, I never thought of that. I ought to go after him, make sure he's come to no harm. But how can I? I can't leave my sister, with things as they are.”

“Would you like us to check up on the boy?” I asked. “It's on our way. We can make sure he's all right, and let you know if he needs help.” I felt pleased that here at last was something practical we could do.
Read an excerpt from Buried Too Deep, and learn more about the author and her work at Jane Finnis' website and her blog, the Lady Killers.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue