In ancient Rome, elections can be murder.
It's the year 89 B.C.E. Upon the retirement of her father, Marcus Didius Falco, Flavia Albia has inherited both his auction house and his clients as a private informer and sometime-sleuth. While preparing a sale of items from the household of wealthy Callistus Valens, who has gone to his country estate with his family, her workmen find a corpse inside a huge armored chest. Because it's too badly decomposed to identify, determining the body's killer, not to mention its identity, falls to Flavia despite the fact that Callistus suggests she simply dispose of it like rubbish. This potential slog takes a back seat when Flavia is buttonholed by rugged Manlius Faustus, a magistrate who's as attracted to her as she is to him, so far to little effect. Faustus hires Flavia to dig up dirt on the slate of candidates competing against his friend Sextus Vibius Marinus in the upcoming election for Plebian Aedile. Caesar favors one Volusius Firmus, an oar-making magnate with a sterling reputation, so it's particularly puzzling when he drops out of the race. There's no dearth of other candidates, but Flavia begins to question the ethics of her work when she learns that Sextus is commonly known as a wife beater. His wife's absence seems to intensify the rumors. A murder reminds Flavia of the danger she has placed herself in. But even she could never have foreseen her own arrest.
Flavia's third case (Enemies at Home, 2014, etc.) benefits from the heroine's combination of archness and vulnerability and the author's deep knowledge of the period.