In his Marcus Didius Falco’s 13th outing (One Virgin Too Many, 2000, etc.), something untoward happens to his toga again—not to mention what happens to Greek banker and literary patron Aurelius Chrysippus when someone jams a scroll rod up his nose and batters him to death in his library. As Mercury would have it, Chrysippus had summoned several low-interest authors and high–interest rate customers on the fatal day. Urbanus, a British playwright whose wife has inky fingers, insists he missed his appointment. Pacuvius, a hack satirist, refused Chrysippus’ request to entertain the Pisarchus household. Pisarchus, who already owed Chrysippus money, wanted another favor: publish his son Philomelus’ novel. Chrysippus abruptly refused, but unaccountably loaned money to dawdling historian Avienus and also supported Turius, a poet with tunics fancier than his metaphors. Avienus soon turns up dead—an unconvincing suicide, or perhaps an example of primitive overdraft protection. Vibia, Chrysippus’s trophy wife, massages Falco’s togaless shoulder and does Juno-knows-what with Chrysippus’ grown son, Diomedes, who sports a pious alibi. Ever the family man, Falco squeezes his investigation around his domestic crises: his father’s lover dies, his archenemy cozies up to his mother and his widowed sister, and his dog whelps on his toga.
Falco invokes Juno in a Virgilian moment, but, in spite of Trojan horseplay with a tray of snacks, the fuss never reaches epic, or even georgic, proportions. From the body in the library to the final gathering of suspects, Davis pays tribute to Agatha Christie, who did it first and better two thousand years later.