In the blazing July heat of imperial Rome, Flavia Albia inspects a decomposing corpse. It has been discovered in lots to be auctioned by her family business, so she's determined to identify the dead man and learn how he met his gruesome end.
The investigation will give her a chance to work with the magistrate, Manlius Faustus, the friend she sadly knows to be the last chaste man in Rome. But he's got other concerns than her anonymous corpse. It's election time and with democracy for sale at Domitian's court, tension has come to a head. Faustus is acting as an agent for a 'good husband and father', whose traditional family values are being called into question. Even more disreputable are his rivals, whom Faustus wants Albia to discredit.
As Albia's and Faustus' professional and personal partnership deepens they have to accept that, for others, obsession can turn sour, and become a deadly strain that leads, tragically, to murder.
It's 89 C.E., and Rome is under the heel of the tyrannical emperor Domitian in Davis's entertaining third whodunit featuring informer Flavia Albia (after 2014's Enemies at Home). The discovery of an unidentified male corpse inside an armored chest, which Flavia's family was putting up for auction, launches her on a murder investigation. Since the chest was untouched in a warehouse for a decade, Flavia speculates that the killer hoped the body would be completely unrecognizable by the time it was found. As she conducts her probe, she also accepts an assignment to check out the opponents of Vibius Marinus, a candidate in the looming municipal elections. Davis lets the action drift at times and gives too much attention to a romantic subplot, but she does her usual smooth job of educating readers with historical tidbits (e.g., explaining that the word candidate derives from the word white, because those seeking elected office wore robes whitened with chalk).