Political treachery swirls around a murder in ancient Rome.
Commander and contemporary historian Aelius Spartianus responds to the request of his friend Baruch ben Matthias to investigate the remarkable claim that a provincial brickyard owner named Marcus Lupus has recently returned from the dead with the help of Christian healer Agnus, aka Pyrikaios, the fire waker. Unfortunately, Aelius arrives a little late; Lupus is dead again, though with a suspiciously rosy complexion. Aelius barely has time to probe the mystery of this death, however, because of another, more consequential one. During a riot, a judge named Minucius Marcellus is murdered in the hot pool at the Old Baths. Complicating the mystery is the victim’s spotless life. He had issued no harsh sentences in his two years as a judge, was faithful to his wife of more than 50 years and avoided both meat and alcohol. In short, there are no leads. Then a brutal assault on Aelius convinces him that solving the murder is vital. Discovering a link between Lupus and Marcellus adds fuel to his investigative fervor. The straightforward third-person narrative is punctuated by Aelius’s elegant notes and diary entries.
This sequel to The Water Thief (2007) is similarly long on historic detail (there’s an extensive glossary). Pastor’s passion for the period sometimes leads her into superfluous detours.