The festival of Saturnalia, a December holiday of license and merriment for all classes, proves a ticklish time to hunt down a killer.
It’s 76 A.D. when undercover agent Marcus Didius Falco gets the dangerous and politically sensitive job of finding an enemy of the state who has escaped house arrest, leaving behind the decapitated body of Scaeva, the owner’s brother-in-law. The escapee is Veleda, a German warrior princess Falco previously met on a mission to stamp out a revolt she was fomenting. Back then Veleda had a brief fling with Justinus, Falco’s brother-in-law, and helped them both escape from Germany. Justinus, now a married man, is still a little in love with her. Falco’s opposed by Anacrites and his Praetorian Guards, who are also tasked with finding Veleda. Having often outwitted the Praetorians’ inept chief spy, he hopes to find Veleda and prevent her death, prove she didn’t commit murder and save his brother-in-law’s marriage. As Falco travels the streets of Rome, awash with drunken revelers, he realizes that destitute people are turning up dead in unusually high numbers. With help from his friends and his clever, aristocratic wife Helena, Falco finds the answers to many questions, including who killed Scaeva and whether there really is a serial killer in Rome.
The latest entry in Davis’s long-running series (See Delphi and Die, 2006, etc.) boasts a straightforward mystery along with her usual double helping of historical detail.