I, Claudius provides a jumping-off point for the second installment in Wishart’s Ancient Rome mystery series, the first to appear in the US, featuring apolitical nobleman and amateur sleuth Marcus Corvinus. Rome is reeling from the tragic death of the noble Germanicus, stepson of the Emperor Tiberius and most likely to succeed him, but mysteriously poisoned while on a campaign at Antioch in Syria. Though Piso, Syria’s ex-governor, has been convicted of the crime, his suicide raises suspicions against Tiberius’ grandmother, the diabolical Empress Livia, who summons Corvinus and firmly suggests that he investigate the death. Bolstered by his arch bride Rufia Perilla, daughter of the poet Ovid, who quickly develops a fascination for the murder, Corvinus sheds his reluctance. Perilla, proving a shrewder sleuth than Corvinus, leaves the legwork to him, and they banter like Nick and Nora. Unfortunately, the other likeliest suspects befall the same fate as Piso. His widow Plancina and his alleged accomplice Martina also commit suicide—or are they murdered?—and Regulus, Piso’s lawyer, likewise turns up dead. There’s nothing else to be done but go to Syria for a firsthand probe. Should Corvinus be bothered that Rufus, Perilla’s ex-husband, commands a legion there? Silly question. Though in Rome, Tiberius is known as The Wart and Germanicus was universally beloved, Corvinus and Perilla find a different story in Syria, along with a whole new circle of suspects.
Classics scholar Wishart gets a little lost in his labyrinthine plot but provides ample historical color to smooth the slow journey to a solution.