The garotted corpse of Stanislaw Janus, a notorious antiquities thief and forger, is discovered in an excavation pit at an archeological site near Colchester, on England’s east coast. A former curator of pre-Roman British artifacts at the British Museum, Janus had turned to crime and was fencing forgeries on the international antiquities black market. Just before his murder, Janus had engineered the theft of the priceless Ravenhoe Cauldron from the Colchester Museum. The nearly 2,000-year-old solid gold vessel had been unearthed by archaeologists …… in the very pit where Janus’ corpse was discovered.
Despite being on parental leave to care for his four-month-old daughter, Detective Inspector Michael “Mick” Chandra is put in charge of the case, his family leave suspended by New Scotland Yard’s commissioner. Mick must find Janus’ murderer as well as locate the missing cauldron, but his task will not be easy. Interpol reveals that Janus assumed multiple identities and remained maddenly out of the reach of law enforcement agencies. Nathaniel Wyatt, his former colleague at the British Museum, describes Janus as the “Steppenwolf” — charming one minute, vicious the next.
Mick calls upon the Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Unit for help in this complex case and as it turns out, he will need all the help he can get, as the case becomes increasingly fraught with danger and risk.
A diverse cast of characters illuminates and obscures Stanislaw Janus’ past: Dr. Cassandra Palmer, Chief Curator of the Colchester Museum, who had known Janus for more than a decade; Dr. Gill Metcalf, director of the archeological dig who openly disdains Janus; Alissa Woo, Metcalf’s beautiful graduate assistant, who originally discovered the cauldron at the Colchester site; Nathaniel Wyatt, Janus’ former colleague, who believes the cauldron will never be recovered; and Anderson Peale III, noted wealthy collector of Celtic artifacts, who may not be as reputable as he seems. Added to this cast is Janus’ star-crossed mistress, Regina, who passes onto Mick her lover’s personal diary.
Familiar faces from the two previous Mick Chandra books return as well: Jessica Beaumont, the American-born pianist who is now Mick’s wife; Mick’s friend and chief informant, Jamie Geller; and Mick’s no-nonsense partner, Sergeant Elizabeth Chang.
And then there is the mysterious rust-encrusted key sent through Mick’s home mail slot bearing a note that reads: “The key to the Ravenhoe Cauldron.”