Plot Hints

The usual ‘Plot Summary’ would be too revealing. The book’s title says it all – no, it doesn’t suggest the half of it… The Chief Spy’s beauty salon is not for the squeamish.

Falco takes a bodyblow from two personal tragedies, then is hammered by good fortune – even harder to endure. Escaping the demands of family life, he makes the first of several trips to the coast where he stumbles upon a mystery. Unexpected disappearances of innocent citizens are the relief he needs. Soon Petronius has an interest too. The friends have shared plenty of grim adventures but now it’s Petro’s turn to get stuck with a hideous location and horrible suspects, in this case the dread Pontine Marshes where the air exudes death and a foul bunch of freedmen to whom ‘friends at court’ is a talisman. Nobody wants the Claudii for neighbours – and nobody wants them in Rome either.

One evil location precedes several that are worse. There are heart-broken women and manipulative men, singers to shun, caterers to curse, Anacrites makes friends by hosting a dinner party (‘Don’t eat the mushrooms’ advises Glaucus) then two families collide; one of them will disintegrate, but few will escape damage. Even Falco and Petro are to learn shocking things about themselves.

The subject is families – so expect it to be dark.

This is the one where Nero (aka Spot) has his mugshot drawn.


‘The plot dashes along, springing surprises with her usual skill, but the novel is strengthened by deeper reflections of the harsh realities of ancient Rome.’ ¬ The Independent

This interesting, enjoyable, and quite varied series has taken us to the boundaries of the Roman world… As gripping and enjoyable as usual – The Literary Review

Falco is characterised with all the usual gusto, and, as ever, Davis is adept at convincing us that her hero’s anachronistically modern sensibility sits persuasively in ancient Rome. And the experience of living in that world is captured with great imagination – Barry Forshaw

“Without my restraining presence, Petronius Longus chalked up a ‘missing’ poster in the Forum. It gave Nero’s identifying features: answered to Spot, left-hander when yoked in a pair, dun coloured, four legs, tail, left-eye squint. Petro even drew a mug-shot. His depiction of Nero’s perpetual line of dribble was particularly sensitive, in my opinion.”  – Chosen by reader, Stephanie Bradley

“For a workable escape you need a plan, a budget, detailed road maps, a
stout stick, proper footwear and a good hat.”
 – chosen by G Corrick