One of the stories from the bestselling historical fiction Falco series.
It is the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. The days are short; the nights are for wild parties. A general has captured a famous enemy of Rome, and brings her home to adorn his Triumph as a ritual sacrifice. The logistics go wrong; she acquires a mystery illness - then a young man is horrendously murdered and she escapes from house arrest.
Marcus Didius Falco is pitted against his old rival, the Chief Spy Anacrites, in a race to find the fugitive before her presence angers the public and makes the government look stupid. Falco has other priorities, for Helena's brother Justinus has also vanished, perhaps fatefully involved once more with the great lost love of his youth.
Against the riotous backdrop of the season of misrule, the search seems impossible and only Falco seems to notice that some dark agency is bringing death to the city streets...
As the festive holiday of Saturnalia approaches in Davis's well-crafted 18th Roman historical (after 2006's See Delphi and Die), informer Marcus Didius Falco receives an imperial commission from Emperor Vespasian to solve the murder of nobleman Sextus Gratianus Scaeva. The victim's brother-in-law was holding a valued captive, Veleda, a female German rebel leader who had caused plenty of problems for the Roman Empire. She somehow escaped at the same time the crime occurred, becoming the prime suspect in the process. Unconvinced that the mystery can be wrapped up neatly with the capture of the fugitive, Falco, aided as always by his astute and independent wife, Helena Justina, pursues other leads even as he hopes to find Veleda and prevent further political turmoil. The occasional anachronistic colloquial phrase jars a bit, but overall Davis does her usual sound job of bringing first-century Rome to life.