The Bottom Line: An unputdownable historical thriller that gloriously tethers ancient Rome to the 1960s.
In the sixth installment in Nick Aaron’s wildly popular Blind Sleuth Mysteries series, set in 1964, 41-year-old intern Daisy Hayes travels to Rome. There, upon invitation from doting Father Boudry, she has the opportunity to study sculptures by touch at the Vatican Museums. It’s a rare treat – as Daisy astutely points out, the blind aren’t allowed to touch sculptures in museums.
But as we all know, sleuths – even amateur ones like Daisy – can never truly go on holiday without finding a delicious case to solve. In this case, Daisy’s mystery happened 1900 years earlier. Desiderata, for whom the book is named, was a blind masseuse working in the Roman baths who overheard plans of an impending coup. Desiderata carved the message into a stone, only to be discovered by Daisy during her studies 19 centuries later.
Through Daisy’s investigation, the book’s primary suspense happens in flashbacks, as Aaron’s tale of Desi and friend Feli puts both in mortal danger. As Daisy unlocks one clue after the other – including the location of a special chapel – we are granted increasingly compelling insights into first-century Roman life.
Aaron’s cinematic historical descriptions are fully engrossing. Standout passages include those at the Circus of Caligula, in which Nero anxiously awaits a series of gory executions, and during the great fire, when you can practically feel the heat coming off the burning city.
Aaron moves between the two timelines seamlessly, and while Daisy’s journey is compelling, Desiderata’s treacherous plight is what makes the book truly memorable. That goes double for fans of Roman history – the book is chock full of fascinating nuggets that even seasoned Romanophiles may not know.
While The Desiderata Stone will please fans of the series, the novel also works perfectly well as an entry point to Aaron’s work.