Marcus Corvinus is settling in for Winter Festival at his daughter’s home in the small town of Bovillae near Rome when Publius Silius Nerva comes calling. Nerva, a prominent senator from Bovillae, needs help solving the embarrassing matter of Quintus Caesius, a politician who had the temerity to get himself bludgeoned to death at the back door of Bovillae’s brothel. Now the town elders want to hand the investigation over to Corvinus and wash their hands of it.
Corvinus quickly discovers that small towns can be just as riddled with corruption and secrets as Rome. The more people he interviews, the more suspects he adds to his list—until two prime suspects end up dead as well. After a visit to back to Rome, the pieces finally fall into place, and he solves the murders in time for holiday festivities.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the “below stairs” rivalries of the servants were a bit overblown, and the prevalence of modern idioms stopped me in my tracks more than a few times. Although I would have liked to see more phrases evoking Roman life in AD 39, I still found the book to be a very entertaining read.