313 AD and Emperor Constantine is facing a spot of bother. He, under the guidance of his mother, the Empress Helena, is planning to legalise the Christian Church in Rome, but unfortunately, some of his favourite courtesans have been found strangled with crosses cut into their faces. Is this a rather severe backlash against the Church, part of a plot to topple Constantine or something more complicated? Helena enlists her trusted spy, the young Claudia, to investigate. But Claudia has investigations of her own to pursue…
This is the first book in the Ancient Rome series – Domina isn’t part of a series, despite what Wikipedia might say – and, like all introductions to series books, we need to introduce the cast and put in place the back-story as well as tell a mystery.
Claudia suffered a traumatic attack a few years previous to the book’s action, where her brother was killed and she was raped. As such, her main priority is to find the man responsible, and she uses her position of trust with both Helena and a Christian priest to progress her own investigations while sorting out their problems as well. She also has to deal with problems at home, as her uncle Polybius owns a tavern, the She-Asses, and a rich merchant has been killed there, and his silver stolen. Oh, and that one’s a locked room mystery.
This is a great book – well characterised, constantly entertaining and the central mystery was pretty good for me… I think. The problem is, you see, I’ve read Murder’s Immortal Mask before, which is the fourth in the series and as such, I could eliminate almost every suspect due to the fact that they were also in that book as Claudia’s allies. Part of the notion of the book is who Claudia should trust. Well, as she trusts them in Book Four, it’s pretty clear who isn’t the murderer – both for the courtesans and the locked room murder at home.
So, given that I really enjoyed this one, despite the murderers being pretty obvious – although, to be fair, I still had my doubts that I was right about the main one – this has to be a full thumbs-up recommendation. I’m just kicking myself that I read them out of order. Never again!!!