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Lindsey Davis is back with yet another addition to the Falco Mystery series, based on Marcus Didius Falco
who is an efficient ‘informer’ (detective, in modern terms) in ancient Rome.
The wisecracking and inimitable Falco solves his thirteenth whodunit in A Body in the Bathhouse.
Falco is suffering the hell of home renovation, fed up with dealing with a pair of incompetent, lazy and money-sucking contractors by the name of Gloccus and Cotta. Not only do they condemn him to their slip-shod work, but as a bonus, also leave him with a body buried under the tiles of the newly renovated bathhouse. This happens when Falco is busy settling into his new home, worried about his newborn daughter, Favonia, and loving wife, Helena Justina. Hounded by his clutch-fisted father
and hampered by his wife’s bumbling brothers, Falco tries to locate the slippery contractors, only
to find that they have skipped Rome and gone to barbaric Britain. To top this dismal situation, Falco’s sister Maia is being chillingly terrorized by a vengeful ex-suitor who also just happens to the Emperor’s
chief spy and Falco’s nemesis, Anacrites. Emperor Vespasian is also pressurizing Falco to go to uncivilized Britain and investigate the construction chaos and mounting bills of the new palace of King Togidubnus, Vespasian’s British ally, which is being funded by Vespasian.
Though reluctant to repeat the awful experience he once had at this far outpost of the Roman civilization, nevertheless Falco departs on his new assignment with his family, burdened with unwanted relatives, unwilling nursemaid and with a kidnapped and headstrong sister. Detailed and often tongue-in-cheek investigation by Falco reveals the construction zone to be a hotbed of corruption, theft, rivalry, loose morals and suspicious deaths. Falco, being the outsider and the Emperor’s eyes, does not find favor with the locals and the construction crew, and finds himself in imminent danger. Anacrites has also not been idle.
In A Body In The Bathhouse, Davis perfectly describes the chaos and pilfering that goes on at every construction site.
She is liable to strike a chord with anyone who has ever had remodeling done. For
the new reader, Davis provides a refreshing and surprising view of Rome, with its scheming politics, policies and administration, through the eyes of her intrepid informer Didius Falco.
Especially of note is how in those times, Romans regarded Britain as the height of primitivism
-- being sent there was tantamount to a demotion or a sentence to hell. Marcus’s problems with his bickering brother-in-laws, his constant spats with his brooding sister, his love and devotion towards his lovely, intelligent wife and the whimsical way he goes about scrutinizing the situation and solving the case, all make this book one thought-provoking read.
Davis' detailed historical research is laudable. The plot is very good, with
enough red herrings to confuse even the most dedicated mystery reader.