Flavia Albia is a new private informer in Rome, an unusual position for a young lady like herself. Having learned many of the tricks of the trade from her father, Marcos Didius Falco, she jumps at the chance to help investigate a fatal accident involving a small boy. Though the job entails defending a truly guilty client, she knows that being a woman means that she can only obtain business that all the male informers had sniffed and refused! When her client dies and a series of similar deaths follows, Flavia must try to find and stop the killer, particularly since it seems that these deaths are occurring too close to home.
The story is very entertaining, witty and engaging even when weakened by the often use of modern expressions and points of view. Set in the reign of the austere and humorless emperor Domitian, Flavia must be careful about what she says and how she acts. Domitians agents are always looking for evidence of scandalous behavior; as a woman Flavia must act like a respectable well protected Roman citizen. Note how just changing her clothes can signal how she wishes to present herself in society. And, although she lives alone on the colorful Aventine Hill, only her office is public. Her own rooms she keeps hidden from outsiders.
There are other valuable glimpses of Rome from the female perspective. Flavias humorous take on the religious minded women who tend the temples is one: women used this as one way they could get out of the house once a week. Above all, womens major roles in the festival for Ceres, goddess of fertility and prosperity, are described as are the varied types of womens work in Rome, from those by women who helped their husbands in shops, to those by women with no male head of family, to those who worked as freed slaves.
There is a helpful map of Rome in the Aventine Hill area and detailed descriptions of various streets, key places and interiors of houses in Rome in this period.