While tending her injured husband, tireless Roman “informer” Flavia Albia (The Graveyard of the Hesperides, 2016, etc.) comes to the emperor’s aid in exposing a pretender to the throne. Or is he?
Rome, 89 C.E.: the wedding day of sardonic narrator Flavia Albia is certainly memorable. During the traditional procession from her father’s home to that of her betrothed, a bolt of lightning strikes her beloved Tiberius. Throughout the ensuing months, the bride tends the recovering bridegroom and puts off increasingly aggressive creditors. Her agent, Philippus, finds a dicey commission that Flavia’s situation makes it impossible to refuse. A year ago, provincial governor Saturninus led a failed revolt. The Emperor Domitian, away defending the borders, is understandably wary and wants a good report. And, oh yes, can Flavia also check into reports of a “third False Nero” who is rallying support for his bid to oust the emperor? Someone pretending to be the beloved (albeit loopy) dead emperor has twice before attempted a coup, and the living emperor waxes impatient. Flavia finds little residual resentment from the rebels Saturninus led but gets an earful about the False Nero and his potent threat. Matters become complicated for Flavia when she’s asked to interview the now imprisoned False Nero and even more so when a murder is announced. Maps and a detailed cast of characters again help the reader keep similarly named suspects and secondary personages straight.
The Roman sleuth’s fifth case rambles in its opening chapters, running mostly on the charm of its heroine, until the plot settles into a murder probe.