Flavia's attraction to aedile Tiberius Faustus, with whom she's recently worked on a case, clouds her judgment. When Faustus needs an independent detective to solve a bafflingly brutal crime that's sent ripples of fear through the city, Flavia heedlessly takes on the job. Middle-age newlyweds Valerius Aviola and Mucia Lucilia have been murdered in their bed during their second night as man and wife. Although there's clear evidence of burglary, their many slaves are automatically presumed to be guilty accomplices until proven innocent. A mass exodus of the suspects and the hasty cleaning of the murder scene put Flavia two steps behind at the very outset of her probe. Nevertheless, she sets about systematically questioning every member of the Aviola household who hasn't fled. The fear, however, runs in both directions, as slaves vastly outnumber free citizens. Tracing stolen items helps Flavia's investigation gain traction but places her in physical danger. Faustus' reappearance as a sidekick enlivens the story considerably, and things really get interesting when Flavia consults her shrewd uncles, both quick to offer advice and to call her out on her recklessness and her little deceits.
Flavia's slow-moving second mystery is a solidly plotted traditional whodunit with some nice historical touches. As the heroine become more fully fleshed, her challenges become more and more interesting.