Davis's seventh foray into ancient Rome when it was ruled by the Emperor Vespasian, as seen through the eyes of the writer's informer-sleuth Marcus Didius Falco (Last Act in Palmyra, p. 100, etc.). Marcus is now sharing in the triumph of his good friend Petronius Longus, an officer in Rome's fourth police cohort, who has at last succeeded in banishing from the city the super-mobster Balbinus--the man responsible for most of Rome's thievery, kidnapping, houses of prostitution, and contract murders. Content with his patrician, newly pregnant mistress Helena, their dog, and a baby he rescued from a garbage dump, Marcus is spending much time and energy trying to provide this little family with better living quarters when his equanimity is pierced by a couple of audacious robberies and a series of gruesome murders, all connected to the testimony that resulted in Balbinus's exile. Marcus and Petronius quickly realize that their enemy is back and that their lives are very much at risk until he's taken care of once and for all. As things move forward, the author's passion for her chosen venue too often translates into lengthy, repetitive accounts of such things as the capital's streets and buildings; its firefighting procedures and wedding rituals; and its abject poverty and sumptuous tchotchkes. Meantime, Marcus's life is further shadowed by the shortcomings of some of his family members and by the stern disapproval of Helena's clan. Our hero's insouciant, smart-aleck style doesn't help the story much, even with his heart of gold evident beneath the flippancy. A treat, perhaps, for fans of the period. Heavy going for others.