Rome: 96 AD. When the body of Sextus Verpa, a notorious senatorial informer and libertine, is found stabbed to death in his bedroom, suspicion falls on his household slaves–a potential death sentence for them all. The emperor Domitian orders Vice-Prefect Pliny to investigate. However, the Roman Games have just begun and for the next fifteen days the law courts are in recess. If Pliny can’t identify the murderer in that time, Verpa’s entire slave household will be burned to death in the arena. Pliny teams up with Martial, a starving author of bawdy verses and hanger-on to the city’s gliterati. Pooling their talents, they unravel a plot that involves Christian “atheists”, worshipers of Isis, a vengeful concubine, and a paranoid emperor.