A young man is found dead in his bed, with a look of extreme agony on his face and strange tattoos all over his body. His distraught senator father suspects foul play, and knows who to call on.
Enter Felix the Fox, a professional investigator. In the business of ferreting out dark information for his clients, Felix is neither a traditional detective nor a traditional magician - but something in between. Drawing on his experience of dealing with the shady elements of society and his aborted education in the magical arts, Felix dons his toga and sets out to discover the young man's killers.
Murder in Absentia is set in a fantasy world. The city of Egretia borrows elements from a thousand years of ancient Roman culture, from the founding of Rome to the late empire, mixed with a judicious amount of magic. This is a story of a cynical, hardboiled detective dealing with anything from daily life to the old forces roaming the world.
This is a story of Togas, Daggers and Magic - for lovers of Murder Mysteries, Ancient Rome and Urban Fantasy.
Welcome to Ink & Magick. I’m your friendly neighborhood witch. What kind of spell can I get for you today?
You do incantations? Right here? What branch of magic? Can I watch you do it? Will you show me how you do it? Oh, you want something specific? Anything really, just so long as it's not permanent and I can see you perform it. Maybe light a fire? It's rather chilly in this time of year.
Please introduce yourself, and the book you are from.
My name is Aemilia, and my first appearance is in Murder In Absentia.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I grew up in the Clivi Ulterior, in my family’s domus. If you’re not familiar with our city, the Clivi Ulterior are the highest reaches still within city limits on mount Vergu. It’s a neighborhood of rich men’s mansions. My father was Tiberius Aemilius Mamercus, a consul and a direct descendant of the T. Aemilius Mamercus.
My life, I know, was better than for the vast majority of people in our city. In matter of fact, I knew little about how most Egretian live their lives. I grew up with friends of the same social circle – sons and daughters of the Senate’s elite. My elder brother died young, but my family kept his tutor. I thus benefited for a scholarly education beyond that of most women.
Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
My brother had a couple of wooden toy soldiers that one of the slaves made for him. One was an Egretian legionary, the other an Arbari barbarian. When Tiberius died from the ague, I kept those soldiers. I hid them under my pillow, and I imagined my brother’s spirit was still in them, that he – and they – were guarding me. I treasured them more than anything else I owned. I still have them.
What do you do now?
Trying to delay the inevitable… I’m nineteen. My mother is busy planning my wedding. I may have some little say in who I marry – or at least absolutely refuse to marry – but the outcome would be the same. Some young scion of a well-respected, old family. Probably a lawyer or a promising career military man, on his way to the senate. Me, I’d just like to experience life a little bit, before I become a show wife, sitting quietly behind the loom.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Ha! A young woman of my social standing is not allowed to have “adverntures.” Not formally, that is. That never stopped me. My cousin Caeso has died in some strange circumstances, and the family wanted to keep it quiet. They hired a man to find out the killers, which he did. I am thankful for him bringing peace to my uncle, even though I thought his methods dubious.
Now another uncle seems to have ran afoul of some bad property investments, his tenants claiming that his apartment blocks are haunted. We thought Felix could resolve this too, so we recommended him. But I’d love to know how he approaches this.
What did you first think when your uncle mentioned the haunted buildings?
We were all rather taken aback by it. We’ve heard of such occurrences, of course. But that’s why we have priests. It’s their civic responsibility to take care of the dead, to hold the yearly rites, to open and close the doors of the Mundus on time, so that the shades of the dead can find peace.
But my uncle was wary of the approaching the priests. They would have made a large show of it, and his political rivals at the senate would mock him, would insist he is cursed by the gods and that none should listen to him. This came at a time he was pushing for some new legislation, and so he wanted the matter investigated and resolved quietly, away from the public’s eye.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
Almost becoming a virgin sacrifice, thrown into a volcano. Luckily, I barely remember the events of that day.
What are the worst and best things about living in Egretia?
The worst? Our city is the best in all the lands, the greatest amongst great people. We have opportunities for everyone – learning, working, leading. If you want worse places, go see how other people live.
Tell us a little about your friends.
You’re asking about Felix, aren’t you? Well, I wouldn’t classify him as a friend. My longest friend is Junia Tertia. She’s only a year older than me. Our parents are friends, so we share many memories together. She is married now, and though her husband is nearing forty, he treats her well. He’s running for aedileship this year, and she is expecting their first baby. I pray to the Magna Mater daily to look out for her and hers, and that their coming year would be blessed.
Any romantic involvement?
Err… hmm… I’d rather not say. My mother might get the wrong ideas.
Besides, there is little place in the life of a young woman of social standing for romance anyway.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
The thing that really gets me all riled up, what raises my hackles and I find hardest to ignore, is stupidity. Either when people are such, or when they are taken as such by others. Our great city needs its legions and its masses, but we are the greatest city that ever rose! Even the poor can learn the basics of reading and arithmetic, let alone middle classes. There is no excuse for not thinking for one’s self, and no crime more deplorable than taking advantage of people’s trust.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
Mulsum made with grapes from my family’s vineyards and honey from my uncle’s apiaries in the Kebric Idles. Verguvian wines are the best, as anyone will tell you, but not many know – or can afford – my uncles special honey. The result has to be like the gods’ nectar.
As for pastime, without a doubt that is reading. What? You were expecting me to a be old-fashioned and enjoy loom-work? I know how to weave, of course, as I have been properly educated. But nothing beats reading.
What does the future hold for you?
A difficult question. I know what my mother would like it to hold, which is probably what will happen, even though it is not my first choice. My mother will find some nice upcoming senator for me to marry. I will be a dutiful wife, bear his children, raise them, be a respectable matron.
Could be worse. If my father was still alive, he might have married me to cement some political alliance to a man his own age. At least this way I get some choice in the matter.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
When I was an impressionable girl of twelve years, I found my mother’s collection of illustrated erotic poetry… I grew up a lot that summer.
Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This was exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whined horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling," yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago, he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart, and Boris Akunin. Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Julia, four kids, and two cats. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.