Aculeo’s beautiful wife, Titiana, judges him a fool and returns to Rome with their son, Atellus. Her wealthy family soon finds a new husband for her.
Aculeo is leading an aimless existence in a small apartment with his slave. Xanthias, and gradually drinking his way through the meagre amounts he can raise from the sale of Titiana’s jewellery.
Former friends who equally lost their fortunes blame Aculeo for persuading them to invest with him though it is obvious he has lost as much as anyone.
Alexandria is a city of extremes. There are numerous fine buildings and prosperous districts. At the same time a much greater part of the city is composed of slum level housing and acute poverty. In the book there is no middle class. A resident is either a member of the rich elite or desperately poor. Aculeo has moved the heights to the depths.
The strength of the book is in its descriptions of Alexandria and its history. I learned a great deal about the city.
The book was a good example of the challenge of names in ancient crime fiction. There are so many unfamiliar names for such matters as people, government and religion (objects, buildings and principles).
For many of the characters it was easy to tell if they were good or bad by their appearance.
It was hard to maintain interest in the story when the main characters are extremely poor and living bleak dark lives. I believe I can enjoy stories where the characters are poor but prefer not everything be grim about them.
Aculeo is muddled at times, no doubt from the large quantities of cheap wine he consumes, which left the plot for periods unclear to me.
Aculeo is roused from his listless life by reports that Iovinus, an associate of his deceased business partner, has not drowned with the sunken fleet but is in Alexandria. As he searches for Iovinus there are murders of women with which Aculeo becomes involved. I did not find the combination of mysteries worked well together. I think it would have been better to have concentrated on either the financial mystery of the missing ships or the cruel murders of young women.
I did find Sekhet, an aged healer and funeral attendant, a fascinating character. She had better potential to be the sleuth with her clever mind and unusual combination of skills.
I admired the ending. It was not predictable and suspenseful.
A reader interested in mysteries set in ancient times will find the book interesting. I thank the author for sending me a copy of the book (Nov. 1/13)