Fifteenth adventure for the inimitable Roman shamus (official job title: informant) Marcus Didius Falco.
Returning home in 75 a.d. with his wife Helena and their brood (including a scene-stealing dog named Nux) after an extended stay in Londinium (The Jupiter Myth, 2003), Falco needs some quick cash. That’s why he holds his nose and accepts a commission from two slick lawyers to gather evidence in the trial of wealthy and influential senator Rubirius Metellus, who’s charged with abuse of office—specifically, with selling appointments. The sleaziness of the case, and his dislike of the arrogant Metellus, keep Falco at a distance. Still, Metellus’ quick conviction owes much to the excellence of the gumshoe’s work. So when Metellus dies by poisoning a month later, it falls to Falco to investigate. What should be a simple probe is complicated by the unanimous contempt of the Metellus clan and its servants for their master, and by his own stated desire to commit suicide. Indeed, the first official ruling is suicide until a comically complicated series of explanations triggers a shift to accidental poisoning. But this is only the beginning: Each of Metellus’ three ungrateful children falls under suspicion in turn, followed by his barely grieving widow, before the methodical Falco ferrets out the killer.
As usual, Davis’s sprightly narrative focuses on customs, history, and details of the Metellus and Falco households and takes its time unraveling the mystery.