The author, who has set previous novels in contemporary Italy and Australia, here tells a story of Rome in 44 B.C., just before the assassination of Julius Caesar. Fufidia, 14-year-old daughter of wealthy but plebian Quintus Fufidius and wife Helvia, is betrothed to Lucius--handsome, corrupt, and cowardly son of patrician but debt-ridden Marcus Scaurus. Meanwhile, Helvia's dearly loved brother Cinna, accomplished poet and officer at Caesar's court, has heard rumors of Lucius' true nature, including homosexual incidents, and contrives to insult him at a drunken poetry-reading in the house of Eucharis, a freed slave and longtime mistress of Quintus Fufidius. Revenge for that humiliation is shortly wreaked by Lucius and his slaves on Fufidia's devoted brother Quintus--an act that sets the stage for the murder of Lucius during a prewedding feast at the splendid house of Fufidius. In time. Helvia, a secret devotee of the god Isis whose passionate hatred of Lucius was poorly disguised, is tried for his murder and successfully defended by Cicero. Neither deaths nor revelations stop there, however, and some mildly surprising secrets are still to be uncovered. Despite its slow start, sporadically pedantic air, and rather feeble mystery, this is an absorbing story, with fully drawn characters, a fascinating place and period, all given vibrant life in the author's best work so far.