For Marcus Didius Falco, agent to the Emperor Vespasian, Alexandria holds fascination and a hint of fear. Beautiful, historic and famously unruly, the great cosmopolitan city wears Roman rule lightly. While his wife, Helena Justina, wants to see the Lighthouse and the Pyramids, Falco has a mission at the Great Library that soon turns out to involve much more than stock-taking its innumerable scrolls. A mysterious death in the world-famous library bring him into immediate conflict with the darker side of academic life. With forensic science in its infancy, even an illegal autopsy fails to find real answers. To solve the crime for the Roman Prefect - if indeed it is a crime - Falco will have to draw on his own doggedness and intuition, at first supported only by Helena's commonsense and the loyal backup of her brother Aulus, who goes under cover as a student among the in-fighting academics. The philosophers lust after fame and fortune so ruthlessly there is soon another terrifying death, this time at the royal zoo. At the same time, his original innocent mission is overshadowed by the machinations of his Uncle Fulvius, who is living in Alexandria with his partner Cassius for obscure reasons. Their involvement in local affairs already seems shady when they are joined by their crony, Falco's father, Geminus, a man well known for disreputable business practices. If the irrepressible Pa has had any hand in what has gone wrong at the Library, Falco knows he stands no chance.