Pliny the Younger (The Eyes of Aurora, 2014, etc.) engages in a high-stakes ruse that inadvertently triggers a murder spree.
When his wife, Livia, pointedly “requests” that Gaius Pliny arrange a marriage for his comely servant, Aurora, he has little choice but to comply. After all, Livia seems to accept Pliny’s intimacy with Aurora…for now. If Pliny can find a convincing husband, then Julia, his imperious mother, and Livia will give him a bit of breathing room. He seems to find just the man he’s seeking in bland, earnest Felix, reassuring both Livia and Julia. Pliny’s droll first-person narrative is counterpointed by Aurora’s considerably more colloquial versions of the same events. Naturally, the course of extramarital love does not run smoothly, exacerbated by the discovery of a skeleton in a wall. Could the bones possibly be those of Livia’s father, Livius, who disappeared not long ago? Pliny, Aurora, and his sidekick, Tacitus, are happy to investigate the crime, if only as an escape from the sticky soap opera that’s entangled them. Unfortunately, Felix’s determination to have a proper wedding night complicates matters considerably. When Livia is kidnapped on her way back to Rome, Pliny finds he has more mystery than he can handle, with more killing to come.
Bell knows his colorful main cast so well that this sixth installment hits the ground running. A nimble sex farce sets the table for a clever and highly readable whodunit. The use of classical tags to introduce each chapter adds another layer of antiquity to the tale.