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Murder In Absentia is the story I always wanted to read. It combines my love of Ancient Rome and detective stories, with all the fantasy books I’ve read over the years.

Here’s what it’s about:

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.

What makes your world special or different?

Words to live by.pngThe world is based on – but not quite – the ancient Mediterranean world. The main city is primarily based on Rome, in terms of culture and everyday life. There are also influences from other places, such as Alexandria. A lot of the other ancient civilizations are represented as well, from Gauls to Greeks, from Egyptians to Assyrian.

When it came time to write the book I was debating whether to base it on real Rome or build a fantasy world. I have done a lot of research about daily life: from religion and political structures, to cuisine and toiletries. In the end, my story is not specifically tied to Rome, and I didn’t want to be tied down to a particular year with its associated personas and events (I was afraid I’d end up doing all research, and not actually writing).

So I build an historical-fantasy world. A new fantasy setup, but closely borrowing from a thousand years of Roman history, for a rich and diverse background.

How does your main character fit into this world?

Felix lives his life in the greatest city of his world. He’s an ordinary citizen (which means his vote doesn’t really count, as the rich hog the political arena), with a bit of diverse background. His father was an antiques dealer, from arts and rare scrolls to the occasional mystical item. He started to study magic, the first in his family, but was forced to stop when he couldn’t pay tuition. He tried joining the legions, and found military life not to his tastes. When he came back, he worked for a while assisting a couple of detectives (Gordius et Falconius – a nod to two of the best known historical-fiction detectives I enjoyed reading: Gordianus and Falco).

And this is what he does now. Solving small cases, often requiring someone with a no-nonsense legions attitude and involving a touch of magic. Until the case that seemed far to big for him, that made his career…

Is there a system of magic? If so, please tell us about it. Or tell us about the technology of your world.

Yes there is, and no I’m not explaining it here 🙂

The technology is based on ancient Rome – the classic roads and aqueducts that we associate with it. The religion is based on older version of Roman religion, before the rampant graecophilia that came later (and please don’t equate Roman mythology to Greek with Latin names – they are different).

The magic… well it draws from several sources. From the religious and superstitious views, from ancient sources, from my fantasy reading, from my experience with internal martial arts… How it works is slowly being revealed as the books progress, but it is never the real focus of the story. Just enough to tease J

Are there any magical creatures?

There are certainly magical creatures. These are based on Roman and Greek mythology. In Murder In Absentia, Felix comes across a Gryffon (Griffin).

His opinion? Typically down-to-earth Roman…

You’ll have to read the novel to discover it, but I’ll just say that was one of my most favourite scenes to write!

What are the two most interesting facts or features of your world?

Assaph.pngQuasi-Roman culture: nominally based on Ancient Rome around the start of the second century BCE (between the second and third Punic Wars – Rome was on the cusp on conquest and expansion outside the Italian peninsula, but not quite there). It does, however, draw some elements from other eras and cultures. Part of the fun of writing speculative fiction is asking ‘what-if’ and running with it.

The numina: Numina is the Roman concept for the presence and power of the divinity. There were gods (like Jupiter, or Iovis Pater to used his old name), but the “numen” was their divine spirit. The word comes from “a nod of the head”, as if the deity was making its will known by looking at you. While there are no active gods in the novels, those divine spirits are philosophically important to the stories.

How does the landscape or geography of your world affect the plot or theme of the story?

One major change from Rome, is that Egretia is a sea-side port. The iconic Lighthouse of Alexandria (the Pharos) is also replicated in Egretia, albeit with a magical bent. It’s a reminder that the fantasy culture of the novels draws primarily – but not only – from Rome. Many other places are alluded to as well.

A side effect is the cuisine. While the romans certainly had a fascination with exotic dishes (jellyfish egg custard, anyone?), Egretians take it a step further. From the squid-onna-stick that Felix buys at a street-side stall, to his comment that ‘Our city may be named after the regal birds that grace our shores, but our people march on squid.’

My (and it is mine) obsession with squids and squid-related dishes, filters through the book.

I did do a lot of research into Garum. This was made of fermented fish guts, was tangy-salty in flavour, and was used on everything. Like Ketchup, but smelling of rotting fish.

The Romans loved it. I just added some squid to it. It has even inspired one fan (a vegetarian!) to go on and research for herself the historical production of garum… You can find her notes here:

On the more serious side, the collegia in Egretia are modelled more on the Alexandrian Museon, rather than the Roman collegia. In Roman Latin, the word “collegium” means a merely sodality of tradesmen. In Egretia the meaning is closer to the modern meaning, of a teaching establishment. There is even a great library under the Collegium Incantatorum, housing ancient scrolls on the physical and metaphysical sciences.

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