The hideously disfigured body was found in the atrium. The only clues are a blood-soaked cloak, and, carved into the stone at the corpse's feet, the word Sparta. The murdered man was the overseer of Marcus Crassus's estate, apparently killed by two runaway slaves bent on joining Spartacus's revolt. In response to the murder, the wealthy, powerful Crassus vows to honor an ancient law and kill his ninety-nine remaining slaves in three days. Now Gordianus the Finder has been summoned from Rome by a mysterious client to find out the truth about the murder before the three days are up.
Enmeshed in a world of desperate slaves and duplicitous masters, extravagant feasts and sordid secrets, Gordianus must risk all he loves, including his life, to stop a senseless slaughter-and save the very future of Rome itself.
Set in 72 B.C., during the slave revolt led by Spartacus, Saylor's ( Roman Blood ) second historical mystery follows Roman PI Gordianus the Finder to the resort of Baiae on the Bay of Naples. The cousin and factotum of Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome, has been bludgeoned to death, apparently by two slaves who have run away. An ancient Roman law decrees that when a master is killed by a slave, the remainder of the household's slaves must be slaughtered. Gordianus and his adopted son Eco have three days to find the real murderer and save the villa's other 99 slaves. A convoluted plot reveals fraud, embezzlement and arms smuggling (spears and swords traded for silver and jewels); sensuously written subplots hinge on arcanic poisons and clandestine love affairs among a cast that includes a Crassus's second-rate philosopher-in-residence and a retired actor who doubles as a female impersonator. Richly detailed bacchanalian feasts and mesmerizing visits to the Sybil at Cumae lead to the spellbinding conclusion, reached during fierce gladiatorial combat. 35,000 first printing; BOMC alternate; paperback rights to Fawcett; author tour.