When the aedile Tiberius Manlius Faustus unearths a set of old bones at a construction site, the informer Flavia Albia (the Roman version of a detective) finds herself involved in a murder investigation at a seedy bar called The Garden of the Hesperides. A barmaid who disappeared ten years ago seems a likely solution…until they discover more than one skeleton. Albia and Tiberius find themselves in a tangled world of building contractors, prostitutes, gambling, and lentil traders, hoping to get the mystery solved before their own wedding day arrives.
Lindsey Davis combines her standard British vocabulary and wit with meticulous research into the world of ancient Rome during the reign of Domitian. My favorite characters in the story were Albia’s younger sisters, Julia and Favonia, traipsing through the bad parts of Rome with wide-eyed naivete and enthusiastically planning Albia’s wedding without the least consideration for her preferences.
Although I was glad to read the next installment in the series, this book fell a little flat for me. The writing itself sparkled, but the story line was not completely compelling. For me, Albia and her almost-husband Tiberius don’t have the same appeal as Falco and Helena. The mystery never completely unraveled and the deus ex machina at the end seemed all too convenient. That said, I will still come back for the next book of the series. The world of ancient Rome as imagined by Lindsey Davis is too fascinating to stay away from.