In first century A.D. Rome, during the reign of Vespasian, Marcus Didius Falco works as a private "informer," often for the emperor, ferreting out hidden truths and bringing villains to ground. But even informers take vacations with their wives, so in A.D. 77, Falco and his wife, Helena Justina, with others in tow, travel to Alexandria, Egypt. But they aren't there long before Falco finds himself in the midst of nefarious doings—when the Librarian of the great library is found dead, under suspicious circumstances.
Falco quickly finds himself on the trail of dodgy doings, malfeasance, deadly professional rivalry, more bodies and the lowest of the low—book thieves! As the bodies pile up, it's up to Falco to untangle this horrible mess and restore order to a disordered universe.
A locked-room murder provides Marcus Didius Falco with an intriguing challenge in Davis's 19th novel to feature the first-century Roman sleuth (after 2007's Saturnalia). In the spring of A.D. 77, while on vacation with his family in Alexandria, Egypt, Falco is stunned to get word that Theon, the Great Library's head librarian, with whom he just dined, has been found dead with neither marks of violence on the body nor evidence of how the killer got away from the scene of the crime. Falco probes the academic politics surrounding the Great Library to determine whether one of Theon's potential successors was the culprit. Other deaths follow, including that of a philosophy student, mauled by a crocodile that escaped from the local zoo. While the impossible crime's solution may disappoint some readers, the twisty plot with its various false leads and the author's plausible depiction of ancient Alexandria make this one of the stronger entries in this solid historical series.
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As always, great story, great insight into family life at its best, and great tour through ancient Alexandria in so many ways.