The spirit of adventure calls Falco on a new spying mission to the untamed East in search of the Emperor Vespasian . He's picking up extra fees from his old friend Thalia the snake dancer as he searches for Sophrona, her lost water organist. With the Chief Spy Anacrites paying his fare, Falco knows anything can go wrong.
A dangerous brush with the Brother, the sinister ruler of Nabataean Petra, sends Falco and his girlfriend Helena on a fast camel ride to Syria. Here they join a traveling theatre group, which keeps losing members in nonaccidental drownings. The bad acting and poor audiences are almost as bad as the desert and its scorpions-then as the killer hovers, Falco tries to write a play...
If Travis McGee traveled in time back to treacherous, civilized Rome in 72 A.D., he might be something like Marcus Didius Falco. Appearing in his sixth adventure, the resourceful, bantering court investigator, who is graced with more humor than his south Florida counterpart and who hates injustice without being a drone about it, is such a regular guy that it's easy to forget he's not speaking figuratively when he talks about the latest model of chariot. Falco was denied a promised promotion into the upper class by the emperor Vespasian after his last escapade (in Poseidon's Gold), a promotion required for him to marry his lover, the patrician Helena Justina. To get out of town with Helena, he takes on a job for one of the emperor's less trustworthy underlings, heading for Syria to do a little snooping; at the same time he's also on the lookout for a runaway girl who may have been kidnapped by a Syrian. While sightseeing, Falco and Helena discover, in a cistern, the body of a playwright who had been with an acting troupe out of Rome. For various reasons, Falco and Helena sign on with the troupe in order to find the killer, with Falco taking on the little appreciated duties of the playwright for cover. Accompanying the troupe on their travels, readers get a history lesson they may wish they had had in high school, all the while being treated to a polished narrative.