As the book opens, Athens is unhappy under the rule of the Macedonian Alexander the Great, now fighting the King of Persia for control of the East. In the middle of the unrest, the eminent citizen Boutades is brutally murdered by a bow and arrow. Suspicion falls on young Philemon, an exile formerly guilty of manslaughter. By Athenian law, his nearest male relative, 23-year-old Stephanos, must conduct Philemon's defence.
Out of desperation, Stephanos turns to his former mentor, Aristotle, who turns detective and soon has Stephanos disguising himself as a vegetable seller to investigate undercover in harbor towns. Together their investigations culminate in a gripping trial where Stephanos has to muster all the powers of rhetoric and oratory Aristotle has taught him to clear his family's name of the bloody murder.
Doody said in an interview with Shots Magazine that the idea came to her after reading Aristotle's Rhetoric and thinking "how Aristotle was so un-illusioned about human behaviour." She decided that somebody should write a detective story in which Aristotle was Sherlock Holmes. In her novel, Aristotle is to Holmes what Stephanos is to Watson, although a more apt description for Aristotle during the first part of the book would be Nero Wolfe, since he does his detective work remotely from his "armchair."
Doody's details are well researched, with technical terms limited to bare essentials, and she manages to inject some dry wit and a playful tone that helps offset the somewhat predictable plot. As Colin Dexter says in a Foreword to the 1996 reissue, "the author wears her scholarship lightly, and the authenticity of the settings—the dirt, smell, noise, throng, of Piraeus, for example—is eminently enjoyable in its own right."
Doody didn't publish the second book in the series, Aristotle and the Poetic Justice, until 2002 (24 years after the first book) due to a sequence of events involving a change in agents, editors and publishers, an all-too-familiar story for a lot of authors. The most recent installment, Aristotle and the Egyptian Murders, was published in 2010.