An ancient Roman sleuth aided by a teenaged Cleopatra tracks down pirates and solves a murder.
Decius Caecilius Metellus accepts a senatorial appointment with strings attached: he must go to the idyllic but reportedly uncivilized island of Cyprus to investigate recent incidents of piracy that have disrupted the flow of goods to Rome. Cyprus governor Aulus Silvanus and his right-hand man, General Gabinius, offer warm greetings to Metellus (SPQR VIII: The River God’s Vengeance, 2004, etc.), offering lavish hospitality and naval support for his search. An even warmer welcome comes from visiting princess Cleopatra, the daughter of Egyptian King Ptolemy, whom Metellus hasn’t seen in a decade. An adventurous teenage beauty, Cleopatra brushes aside concerns about her safety and lustily joins Metellus’ fleet in its pirate search. Cyprus is enlivened still further by Flavia, a sensual senator’s wife apparently on the prowl for carnal adventure, who seems to pop up everywhere Metellus visits. Thankfully, he gets solid support from his knowledgeable new servant Ion. When Silvanus is poisoned with a surfeit of frankincense, Metellus adds a murder investigation to his to-do list, marking Cleopatra and ambitious Gabinius, a former military rival of Caesar’s, as prime suspects. Arriving unannounced at the 11th hour, Metellus’ shrewd wife Julia helps him solve both mysteries.
Colorful characters led by Cleopatra and historical tidbits add entertainment to a middling mystery. Bonus: a ten-page glossary.