Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina travel to Ostia Antica, ostensibly on holiday. However, Falco is forced to confess to Petronius – present there on secondment – that he is in fact investigating the disappearance of Infamia, the pen name of the scribe who writes the gossip column for the Daily Gazette. He is at first believed to be merely a drunken truant, however investigations uncover some murky secrets.
All Rome reads this and eagerly awaits its publication. People love defamation.
Marcus Didius Falco accepts a job to look for Diocles who writes the Daily Gazette gossip column under the pseudonym ‘Infamia’. Diocles purportedly went to Ostia, the Port of Rome, to spend his holiday with his aunt, but his vacation is long over and he has not returned.
Falco and his friend, Petronius, now living with Falco’s sister, Maia, are having a drink in a wine bar in Ostia. Petro is in Ostia in advance of his cohort of vigiles being sent to their four-month duty in Ostia, supposedly protecting the port.
Falco falls into information that indicates that there are still pirates operating on the seas, despite the fact that Pompey the Great supposedly turned all pirates into farmers several decades earlier, and he also discovers a kidnapping scheme.
Helena brings Falco’s family to Ostia from Rome — his two daughters, their adopted daughter, and Nux their disreputable mutt. Once Helena comes, Falco is able to move into the vacation rental he has arranged for, and his life becomes a bit easier. Helena, being a senator’s daughter, is great help in his ‘private informer’ business, and even though one of Helena’s brothers has decided to go to Greece to study law, he can still rely on the other brother back in Rome.
Maps, a family tree and list of the principal characters, help to keep the large cast of characters in their places, And Falco’s disreputable family make their expected appearances. The Customs Office is about as lazy as everyone else in the port, as is Falco’s unfortunate brother in law, Balbinus.
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Roman scrolls …