Death in the Ashes
Four years after witnessing the horrors of Vesuvius and Pompeii and the death of his uncle, Pliny the Younger still has nightmares of the disaster and has avoided returning to that locale. However, when his close friend Aurelia’s husband is accused of murdering a servant in Pompeii, he feels compelled to offer his assistance.
He welcomes an excuse to escape from Rome, leaving behind his mother’s irksome plans for his marriage, his feelings for the slave Aurora, and a troublesome legal case. But solving the crime isn’t simple: the murder scene has been disturbed, questions abound, and Pliny finds himself confounded by the very people he’s trying to help. Why is Calpurnius so unwilling to talk? What is the emperor’s connection? And just who is Lady Plautia? As the web of intrigue is untangled, Pliny discovers information that endangers them all.
The smart, witty Pliny is a likable detective, the bantering friendship between Pliny and Tacitus adds humor to the suspenseful tale, and there are ample details of Roman life in A.D. 84. Bell admirably juggles his multiple storylines and characters. A helpful glossary and list of characters is included. Although part of a series, I found it enjoyable as a standalone mystery, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys the novels of Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, and Ruth Downie.