cover image One Virgin Too Many

One Virgin Too Many

Lindsey Davis. Mysterious Press, $32 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-89296-716-2

""I seem to be hearing about nothing but religious cults this week,"" says Marcus Didius Falco--the Spenser of Ancient Rome--early on in this 12th entry in Davis's popular series. And indeed details of the weirder practices of Roman worship take up much (some might say too much) of the book's story. Falco himself has been rewarded for his lucrative work as a census taker with the dubious honor of looking after the Emperor's sacred geese--including cleaning up their droppings. Aulus, the younger brother of Falco's highborn lover, Helena, is trying to join a prestigious agricultural/fertility sect called the Arval Brothers. And several young girls, including Falco's own niece, are caught up in the selection of a new Vestal Virgin--which sounds in Davis's version like a children's beauty pageant straight out of the JonBenet Ramsey case. Falco has to put aside his goose-watching and reclaim his day job as private informer when (1) Aulus discovers a mutilated corpse at the Arval Brothers' bucolic retreat and (2) one of the leading Virgins--who tried to hire Marcus because she thought her family was trying to kill her--disappears. As usual, Davis shows us many ways in which Ancient Rome was both the same as and different from our own times--although the research isn't as seamlessly integrated as before. And Falco, while still an interesting mix of ambition and democracy, doesn't have that true ring of a real Roman coin he once had. (Nov.)