Rats are always bigger than you expect. Falco, ancient Rome's hangdog investigator, hates sharing a cell with a rodent - though being bailed by his old mother is almost as embarrassing. His high-born girlfriend can't decide if she wants him, and Titus Caesar's reward for past services is a wet fish. Hoping for a better life, or at least a better apartment, he takes on new clients.
On the elegant slopes of the Pincian Hill, three nouveau riche freedmen with two flashy wives are under siege by a clever redhead. Severina Zotica has a foul-mouthed parrot, an odd connection with a snake dancer - and a very suspicious past. As he pursues this flame-haired fortune-hunter, Falco finds himself beset by violent rentracketeers, poisoners, and women without consciences who have dangerous designs on him.