An ancient Roman sleuth learns that love can be fatal.
October, 89 C.E. Marital bliss is tested when the ex-wife of private investigator Flavia Alba’s husband, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, offers her an assignment. Even though it was Laia Gratiana who left Tiberius a decade ago, Flavia still has good reason to be wary: The assignment, investigating the suspicious poisoning death of a teenage girl named Clodia, will take Flavia to the far side of Rome, a considerable distance from Tiberius. But because money is tight, she agrees to meet Volumnius, the grieving father, and takes the job after he agrees to her terms. Clodia’s faithful maid, Chryse, is a font of information about both Clodia’s private desires and the family’s problems. The former includes a secret crush, the latter volatile son Auctus, who’s recently been sent abroad with the army. The questioning of multiple suspects, most of whom are less than candid, stimulates Flavia, but she also misses Tiberius acutely. Overhearing a group of raucous young men of Clodia’s acquaintance, Flavia gets a more credible picture of the girl and a new idea about her murder. Unanswered questions swirl around Pandora, a mysterious herbalist Flavia has a particularly hard time pinning down for a meeting. The unexpected arrival of Tiberius boosts Flavia’s spirits, and his assistance helps to solve the case, though not before a second sad killing.
The sixth case for Davis’ heroine (The Third Nero, 2017, etc.) boasts a brisk pace, a colorful cast, and her customary attention to period detail. Maps and a list of characters help armchair sleuths keep the story’s twists straight.