In the high summer of 77 AD, Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco is beset by personal problems. A middle-aged couple who supplied statues to his father have disappeared. They had an old feud with a bunch of notorious freedmen, the Claudii, who terrorize the neighborhood. When a mutilated corpse turns up, Falco and his friend Petronius investigate. But just as they are making progress, the Chief Spy, Anacrites, snatches the case away. Falco and Petronius dig deeper while the shocking truth creeps closer and closer to home.