The Third Princess - Philip Boast
'The Third Princess', is set in the Rome of Nero, all craziness and blood; it's the first in a series (although to date, as far as I can see, the series only amounts to two books...). The author is, of course, not the first to write books set in Ancient Rome as it seems to be a rich stamping ground for historical crime writers, let alone the more melodramatic mainstream novellist.

Our protagonist is Quistus, a former senator whose world was torn apart with the murder of his wife and children; hoping that two of his children might be alive, he's travelled both within the Roman Empire and outside of it, but without success. On returning to Rome, uncertain whether he still wants to live, Quistus finds himself the subject of a desperate appeal from a young slavegirl - her rich mistress has died and if murder is suspected, she and all the other slaves the woman owned will be executed.

Sounds simple enough? Throw in with that a sub-plot about Britain and you can see how things start to unwind. I'm not certain it helps that it's still somewhat difficult to summon up a great deal of sympathy for Quistus, even when things go terribly wrong. I also think it's unwise, stylistically, to have Quistus recollecting his adventures before this book which sound infinitely more interesting than the plot we're actually dealing with. Speaking of which, the plot to the next book ('Son of Heaven') sounds much more interesting than this one, so despite my concerns I'll probably end up reading it at some point...