As I walked back through the City, my mood was moderately elevated. This appointment did not displease me nearly as much as I pretended. Like most Romans I abhorred the very thought of sea duty, but this was one of the rare occasions when I was looking forward to getting away from Rome..... For years I had complained of the disorder of the City, and now that it was gone, I found that I missed it. All the peace and quiet seemed unnatural. I did not expect it to last.
- Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger in SPQR IX: The Princess and the Pirates
His two years of aedileship over, Decius is ready for his next adventure. He would rather do anything than join the war with Caesar in the dismal forests of Gaul, so he and his slave/protégé Hermes find themselves on a mission to rid the Mediterranean of pirates. They set off with shoddy ships and sailors to the island of Cyprus, where a young Cleopatra is staying. Between her impressive crew and the ex-pirate Ariston providing insider knowledge of that cutthroat occupation, Decius thinks he stands a good chance of bringing himself some glory.
That would be too simple, though. The ruler of the island, Silvanus, is murdered in a most peculiar fashion and Decius, as a guest in his home, has a sacred duty to find and punish the guilty party. Because world relations are already strained, he would rather not suspect Cleopatra, heir to the Egyptian throne. But she has plenty of reasons to hate Rome and murder runs in her family. Another guest and suspect is Gabinius, who is in exile and could have easily given up loyalty toward his friend if it meant a quicker return to Rome. In the meantime, Decius is being humiliated in his pirate hunt, and as if this weren't enough, Aphrodite herself seeks Decius's help by appearing to him in a dream vision. As Decius investigates world trade, the island history, and the new kind of piracy plaguing the waters, he is finding connections more menacing than he had ever imagined possible.
In this ninth book in the series, Roberts crafts another skillful mystery, this time fervently pulsing with the collision of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian interests.