A rebellious German priestess and a murdered nobleman keep informer-investigator Marcus Didius Falco busy in Davis' eighteenth historical whodunit set in Rome in 76 CE. Falco fights crime in the morally depraved city at the pleasure of the emperor, a duty that becomes even more daunting during the season of debauchery known as Saturnalia. As the novel opens, German beauty Veleda (whom Falco first encountered in 1993's The Iron Hand of Mars) has escaped house arrest around the same time young Gratianus Scaeva is found dead, his decapitated head floating in the atrium pool at his family's villa. Adding to Falco's woes is news that his married brother-in-law (who happens to be one of Veleda's former lovers) has gone missing. As always, the shrewd and outspoken Falco is helped by his headstrong wife, Helena Justina, and hindered by nefarious Anacrites, Rome's Chief Spy. Davis serves up a huge cast of characters and colorful descriptions of daily life in first-century Rome, details sure to please readers with an affinity for ancient history.
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