by Paul Doherty
It is 312 C.E. Constantine has recently defeated his rival Maxentius and has entered Rome to become Emperor of the West and self proclaimed "protector of the Christians." His eyes, however, are on the real prize, the rich lands of the East now held by Emperor Licinius. These plans are being undermined by a serious of gruesome murders connected to the palace. To discover the identity of her son's enemy, his doting mother Helena has her most effective spy, young Claudia, become an undercover palace servant. Because of her observation skills and ability to glide about without being noticed, Helena calls Claudia her "little mouse." But even a mouse cannot remain invisible for long, and it seems likely that Claudia will be the murderer's next victim.
Publicly Claudia is the inconsequential niece of a local tavern owner; in secret she belongs to a type of imperial spy group called Argentes in Rebus. Both personae give Claudia access to a variety of colorful Roman types - from an influential Christian priest to popular gladiators, actors, and courtesans. Of particular interest are the palace personalities and their intrigues. "Trust no one," Claudia is told - advice that more than once proves to be true.
Doughty is a prolific writer whose works span wide historical periods. He writes vividly and with great style on the quotidian details of his periods. His main scholarship, however, seems to be medieval England and we would feel more comfortable about his descriptions if this book on Constantinian Rome had listed some of the author's most useful sources.