Wishart’s Roman nobleman risks his life as he probes the murder of an unpopular business magnate.
Marcus Valerius Corvinus (Parthian Shot, 2004, etc.) is quickly bored with the idle decadence of Baiae, the Roman Riviera (think Vegas crossed with Sodom and Gomorrah), while vacationing there with his wife Perilla and his mother—so bored, in fact, that he almost agrees to befriend mom’s dissolute boyfriend Priscus and sober him up. He’s saved from this distasteful challenge by the killing of local fish-farm owner Licinius Murena, whom Corvinus, coincidentally, overheard being drunkenly reviled in a bar the night before. His abuser Trebbio, a longtime tenant of Murena, is the prime suspect in his murder. When he interviews the far-from-grieving family, however, Corvinus learns that there’s no dearth of candidates. Murena had the distasteful habit of giving those around him unflattering nicknames, like Vagabond (his brother Nerva), Gadfly (his business partner Tattius) and Butterfly (his much-younger second wife Gellia). Household gossip targets family physician Diodotus (the Scowler), whose affair with Gellia is an open secret. Then suspicion shifts from Diodotus to Murena’s daughter Penelope, Tattius’ wife, who accuses her late father of having murdered her mother, and finally to Nerva, drowning in financial woes. Corvinus withstands multiple threats and a severe beating on his way to the surprising solution.
Wishart continues to entertain with a droll first-person narrative and a solid puzzle.