A serial rapist, a grim mass murderer, and, worst, a troop of voracious actors plague ancient Rome.
Shrewd and industrious widow Claudia Seferius, strapped for cash as usual, allows a strolling group of players known as Caspar’s Spectaculars to camp out on her estate. The company includes all manner of hedonists—lushes, nymphomaniacs, transsexuals, pansexuals, et al.—and (a fact known only to the reader) a sadistic killer called The Gravedigger. Handling this motley crew is but one of a handful of challenges facing the resourceful Claudia. Her sister-in-law Julia implores her help in reining in both her wild child Flavia (who has recently discovered the joy of sex) and her philandering husband Marcellus, tasks Claudia undertakes with relish. A darker dilemma comes from Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, the sexy, chauvinistic police investigator with whom Claudia has a longstanding lust/hate relationship, who asks her help in ferreting out the notorious Saturnalia Rapist. After Orbilio and his partner Dymas arrested the rapist two years ago, he was executed. Is this a copycat criminal? Worse, did Orbilio arrest the wrong man? And, incidentally, is he the wrong man himself? Although his new ladylove, the coquettish Angelina, declares him the best of her lovers, Orbilio has no memory of any intimacies with her.
Claudia’s ninth escapade (Dark Horse, 2002, etc.) is her liveliest in years, with nonstop drollery and a fun cast of flamboyant characters.