'Davis's prose is a lively joy, and Flavia's Rome is sinister and gloriously real' The Times on Saturday
Flavia Albia's day-old marriage is in trouble - her new husband may be permanently disabled and they have no funds. So when Palace officials ask her to expose a traitor in their midst she is ready for the task.
Ever since the Emperor Nero committed suicide in AD 68, Rome has been haunted by reports that he is actually alive and ready to reclaim his throne. Two Nero pretenders have emerged from the East and met grisly fates.
But now a new pretender has been smuggled into Rome by the traitor. Flavia must negotiate with spies, dodge assassins and reveal this third Nero before he can make his move. Will she act in time or will Rome once more be plunged into civil war?
Davis has never been better at using actual political turmoil in the service of a page-turning plot than in her fifth novel set in first-century Rome featuring freelance investigator Flavia Alba (after 2016's The Graveyard of the Hesperides). On the day of Flavia's wedding to Tiberius Manlius Faustus, "a sweet and serious person," a lightning strike seriously injures Tiberius and kills three other men. As Flavia contemplates adapting to a new and unwelcome reality with a bedridden husband, bureaucrat Claudius Philippus approaches her with an extremely sensitive assignment: Emperor Domitian, who's notorious for having perceived enemies executed without hesitation, has recently ordered the deaths of two provincial governors. Both men may have supported another governor who attempted to wrest the throne away from Domitian, and Philippus asks Flavia to find proof that the emperor's suspicions are warranted. Meanwhile, three pretenders passing themselves off as the resurrected Nero threaten Domitian as well. Davis successfully maintains a high level of tension throughout.