Get Out or Die
by Jane Finnis
Reviewed by Susan Gillmor
Britain has been an outpost of the Roman Empire for only fifty years when in 91 A.D. the beheaded bodies of Roman settlers begin gruesomely peppering the countryside on the northern frontier near Eburacum (modern-day York). Attached to each body is a message warning Romans to "Get Out or Die," the provocative title for Jane Finnis's debut mystery novel featuring Aurelia Marcella, Roman-born innkeeper of the Oak Tree Mansio and Inn.
Clearly the native Brigantians are restless. The identity of the mysterious "Shadow of Death" who claims responsibility for the killings must be uncovered before the body count grows. Aurelia and a colorful cast of supporting characters, Roman and Celtic, play central roles in unraveling the convoluted circumstances threatening the Pax Romana as suspicious fingers sooner or later point at nearly all the major players.
The physical landscape, along with its Celtic tribes and Druids, is recognizably Britain, but the political overlay is strictly Roman Empire. The combination is a relative rarity in the fictional world. Aurelia's inn and horse-breeding facility is largely maintained by native slaves, most of whom are surprisingly loyal to their Latin masters and mistresses.
The Roman deities, "Apollo with his lyre, Minerva with an owl, Neptune with a dolphin. . . the statues of Jupiter and Juno," regularly vie for ascendancy with the Celtic Dagda, Taranis and the Three Mothers. The contending pantheons are portrayed as curiously similar; certainly both are blood-thirsty. "A pure white bull-calf sacrificed on the altar" has its entrails examined by a Roman augur at a ceremony to sanctify the new temple in Oak Tree. Later, a young boy is ritually slain on a Celtic altar, with druids interpreting the omens "from the way he twitched as he died."
In Get Out or Die, Jane Finnis brings her refreshingly original premise to vivid life with a pert and entertaining first-person narrative style. (2005; 350 pages, including a brief "About the History" afterword)
More about Get Out or Die at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other mysteries set in Roman Britain:
Medicus by Ruth Downie (2006; also titled Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls), #1 in a series featuring a physician for a Roman army legion stationed in Britain as sleuth. More info
The Germanicus Mosaic by Rosemary Rowe (1999), #1 in a series featuring a mosaic-maker in second century Roman Britain as sleuth. More info
Nox Dormienda: A Long Night for Sleeping by Kelli Stanley (2008), about a physican for Agricola, the Roman governor of Britain, and his efforts to find out who cut the throat of a Syrian spy. More info
Nonfiction about women and rebellions in Roman Britain:
Women in Roman Britain by Lindsay Allason-Jones (1989). More info
Defying Rome: The Rebels of Roman Britain by Guy de la Bedoyere (2003). More info
Rome and the Brigantes: The Impact of Rome on Northern Britain, edited by Keith Branigan (1980). More info
About the Brigantes at BritainExpress.com
A timeline for the Brigantes at HistoryFiles.co.uk
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