Deliberately conceived as a classic private eye dilemma: Trying to forget the indignity of being bailed from jail by his mother, Falco accepts a case from nouveaux riches private clients. Meanwhile he is trying to lure Helena Justina to live with him, which may prove extremely dangerous, given the notorious instability of Roman real estate. When the man he is protecting dies (mother was right: don’t lick your plate) our hero finds himself paid off and rehired by the chief suspect. She is a “professional bride”, or according to her, a nice girl who does a lot of sewing (and who owns a parrot with a curious turn of phrase). There is a closed circle of characters, all with suspicious motives; they are seedily unpleasant and their friends are worse. While investigating, Falco meets for the first time, Thalia, the exotic dancer, and Jason her sinuous pet. The clinching evidence is medical, eventually deposited with the Vestal Virgins for safety: lucky they don’t know what it is.
This is the one with the joke about Roman manicure sets that translators find very difficult.
Research Note: this has the famous turbot-cooking scene. It was tried out thoroughly, the series editor taking the part of Petronius holding the hot tray.
Another redolent dip into corruption in Vespasian’s Rome … original and delightful – Sunday Times
If Damon Runyon had turned his hand to the characters of Imperial Rome instead of New York in the ’30s, he might have come up with something along the lines of Marcus Didius Falco… What fun this is- The Drood Review of Mystery
An irresistible package of history, mystery, and fast-moving action, all punctuated by a sense of humour that few writers can match – Cleveland Plain Dealer
‘All I had in the world to worry about was two pastries in a hatful of dust. I put the hat down on a doorstep and laid my cloak over it. A gesture really; while I tried to cope.’
Chosen by readers, Rosina and George Harter