Rome, AD 72. Falco returns home from a six-month mission to the German legions. But trouble is in store for him: his apartment has been wrecked by squatters, and an ex-legionary friend of his colorfully heroic brother Festus is demanding money, allegedly owed him as the result of one of Festus's wild schemes. Worse still, the only client Falco can get is his mother-who wants him to clear the family name.
Then, just as Falco thinks things can only get better, fate takes a turn for the worse. The legionary is found viciously stabbed to death, with Falco the prime suspect. Now he has only three days to prove he is not a murderer, to trace the real suspect, amass evidence, and win a fortune.
Davis (The Iron Hand of Mars) introduces a bright new figure in the brisk fifth novel in her series starring Marcus Didius Falco, free-lance ``informer'' in Rome during the first century A.D. Falco's dad, Geminus, who abandoned his family when Falco was a youngster, becomes his estranged son's unwelcome partner in an effort to relieve the family of a serious debt incurred by Falco's brother Festus, who died while serving in the army. Before his death, Festus had masterminded a scheme to sell a statue of Poseidon by the famed Phidias, involving fellow soldiers in a syndicate to buy the statue from its Greek owners. After the Poseidon was apparently lost at sea, a rude centurion shows up to insist that the syndicate be reimbursed. He and Falco fight in public, and later, when the soldier is stabbed to death, Falco is prime suspect. The intricate plot places Falco's highborn lover, Helena Justina, in jeopardy as she is also charged in the murder. To clear himself and Helena, Falco is forced to team up with his art-auctioneer father, a most appealing rogue, and come to grips with myths and facts of his family's personal history. Davis offers a vividly realized Imperial Rome-noisy, dense and dangerous.