A fifth-century Nick and Nora crack secret codes, enjoy an impromptu maritime adventure, and hang out with gladiators in their second mystery caper.
Ravenna, a.d. 440: Thecla, the salty female elder of the local Arian Basilica, finds a beautiful young woman sobbing in a dark recess of her church near the body of a young man who appears to have been castrated—a diagnosis confirmed by surgeon/sleuth Getorius Asterius (Secundus Papyrus, 2003). Getorius’ take-charge wife Arcadia, accompanying him as usual, helps transport the girl, who says her name is Cybele (or is it Sybil?) to safety at their home. They soon learn that she’s a Vestal Virgin actually named Claudia who’s three months pregnant. Her father, bullish Gaius Quintus Virilo, is master of the merchant galley Cybele. His brusque manner, which ruffles Arcadia’s feathers when he comes to whisk away his daughter, and an odd dispute between Getorius and city officials over the nature of the murder weapon, lead the couple to suspect a cover-up. Are the unpopular Thecla and her Arian sect being set up? The investigation turns into an odyssey complete with a voyage aboard the Cybele, an interlude with a stable of gladiators, an amputation, a flock of escaped ostriches, and an imprisoned Chinese inventor.
Noyer’s enthusiastic curiosity is effectively channeled through his two attractive protagonists: a smooth narrative packed with fascinating historical detail.