Several of the neighborhood’s watchdogs have been decapitated. Flavia, daughter of a Roman captain, and her companions Jonathan, Lupus and Nubia suspect a man whose daughter died after being bitten by a rabid dog. Flavia enjoys solving puzzles, and as matters progress the children discover that a more sinister plot is in progress.

Flavia’s family are conventional Roman polytheists, favouring the twins Castor and Pollux. Her mother died years before the story starts, giving birth to twins who also died. Twelve-year-old Jonathan comes from a Jewish family. They are not welcome in the synagogue because they have become Christians and insist on forgiveness rather than retribution. We meet several other characters and situations which hint at an early Christian community in Rome. His mother has disappeared, but his sister Miriam is old enough at thirteen to be married. Flavia spends time speculating on which of the young men around her will ask her to marry him. Lupus is a young mute beggar, while Nubia is a slave that Flavia purchased for her birthday.

A simple story, simply told. While the backdrop is ancient Rome, and there are many realistic supporting details, many things are kept similar to modern-day life so the effect is not too alien. If anything it’s a little too simple, particularly in light of some of the events and ideas present within this story and the others in the series which seem to demand a slightly older readership. One man, in despair at the loss of his daughter, commits suicide, witnessed by Lupus the mute beggar boy. Aside from its place as a plot device (essentially to provide an alibi for the dead man) no comment is passed on the event. Nubia is one of a number of slaves traded by Venalicius the slave-dealer who is brutal and greedy.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London.  He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.