When a lawyer is poisoned, Imperial Rome offers no dearth of suspects.
A letter from his adopted daughter Valeria Marilla prompts Roman nobleman and sometime sleuth Marcus Corvinus (In at the Death, 2007, etc.) to venture to Castrimoenium, 25 miles to the southeast, to investigate. The physician Hyperion, father of Marilla’s intended Clarus, has ruled the death of affluent lawyer Hostilius a heart attack but suspects poisoning. The dead man’s slaves are logical suspects—indeed, Hyperion has kept his suspicions to himself mostly to spare them from a scorched-earth punishment—but so are several others in the lawyer’s immediate circle: his widow Veturina, her brother Castor and Hostilius’ law partner Quintus Acceius. Widening the field of possibilities is an abrupt, unpleasant personality change in the last year or so of Hostilius’ life. Only a week earlier, he’d been attacked in the street for no apparent reason. Corvinus’ casual questioning of household and community takes a darker, more urgent turn with the murder of beautiful slave-boy Cosmos, who was notorious for using his body to get what he wanted. Corvinus is chagrined to learn that Castor and Veturina have been concealing the disappearance of Hostilius’ ward Paulina on the day of his death, a fact that turns out to be key to the mystery. Can no one in Castrimoenium be trusted?
Rich with historical detail (including a lengthy author’s note about Roman cookery), but essentially a solid traditional whodunit with a customary parade of suspects and a thickening plot, as well as the culminating deduction, lengthily explained.