The suspicious destruction of an apartment building in ancient Rome prompts an investigation of civic corruption and murder.
Rome has benefited from the battle for public affection between Pompey and Caesar. But the rise of state-sponsored games, along with monuments and public buildings, proves a headache for Decius Caecilius Metellus (The Tribune’s Curse, Mar. 2003, etc.), full-time aedile, sometime sleuth, and droll narrator. More than the civility Decius laments is evidently on the decline when a five-story insula collapses, killing more than 50 inhabitants. The single survivor is a burly slave found clinging to life as he’s pinned against a basement wall. Before he can be questioned at length, he dies—a double misfortune, since the couple who owned the building had their necks broken before the fatal collapse. Decius’ usual sidekick, his caustic wife Julia, stays in the background, leaving his shady servant Hermes to pick up the slack, though he’s as apt to dig up mischief as clues. Their investigation leads them through lots of historical info about Roman society and government before a trip to a notorious whorehouse, the scene of a Senator’s recent murder, puts Decius and Hermes on the track of a solution. An extensive glossary provides definitions as well as interesting explanations of customs and government processes.
Short on mystery but surprisingly engaging, especially for series fans and ancient-history buffs.