I really cannot fathom why there are so many negative reactions to Lindsey Davis's latest Falco mystery novel. I read for amusement. And all I demand from a mystery novel (or any other kind of novel for that matter) is that it possess a plot-line that snares my interest (good story line with a few twists and turns, excellent plot development, a few well depicted red herring suspects, and a protagonist that I can take to). Failing that, I'll settle for a novel that entertains and that charms and piques my interest. And as far as I'm concerned, this latest Falco adventure, "A Body in the Bathhouse," does both in spades. Harriet Klausner has already written a rather good plot synopsis, so I'm going to stick to making my case for why I liked this book very much, and why I think it is a good read.
It is true that there is that whole chunk in the middle of the novel that deals with the building project of the Briton High King's palace, but I did not find these bits to be tedious or tiresome at all. After all, Falco had been asked by Vespasian to sniff around and see if the builders were trying to defraud the Empire by padding costs and stealing building material. And I thought that Davis did a rather excellent job of bringing to life the colourful characters involved with this project. So, I saw these bits as a kind of setting of the stage and tone for plot -- for giving the book a kind of 'feel' and atmosphere so to speak. As such, I didn't see these chapters as a distracting and tiresome, but necessary to the development of certain plot themes. Another example of what some may consider as trivial distractions, but which I rather enjoy, is the personal stories of certain series regulars that Davis has been developing over the past few books. Characters such as Falco's sister, the fetching widow Maia, and her relationship with Petro, Falco's best friend. What will happen there? Will their relationship move forward or will it deteriorate because of the part Petro paid in getting her out of Rome and out of Anacrites (her vindictive stalker)'s way? I also wanted to know how things would pan out between Aelianus and Justinus. (By the way, a previous reviewer got it wrong. Aelianus and Justinus are Helena's, Falco's wife, younger brothers, and not his cousins). Both young men have tagged along to Britain in order to 'help' Falco with his twin tasks of investigating the case of possible graft, and of locating Glaucuc and Cotta. The relationship between the two brothers however is practically nonexistent, esp since Justinus had eloped earliar with Aelianus's fiance (chronicled in two previous Falco adventures, "Three Hands in a Fountain" & "Two for the Lions.") Currently however Justinus, his wife and Aelianus, are all living with Helena's parents, and both young men are working for Falco as his assistants -- a very volatile situation indeed. Will the brothers cry pax and become friends again? What impact would Justinus's spell away from his new wife have on his marriage? And will Aelianus ever find his niche in the scheme of things? (I'll admit to having developed a sneaking affection for Helena's least liked brother). So that while the mystery at hand may not have been one of Davis's more stellar efforts, the need to know how things would pan out for all these characters had me fairly devouring the book in one go.
As I've already stated, I read for entertainment. And "A Body in the Bathhouse" definitely entertained. The author maintained her sharp, witty and droll prose style from beginning to end, expertly and with ease. I wish I could write so well. Truthfully speaking, I may not be the best person to give an unbiased review of Lindsey Davis's work since I firmly believe her to be a rather phenomenal writer. But, I really did enjoy this mystery novel very much. It may not be a very complex and clever murder mystery, and it may not have kept me guessing about the outcome of things to the very end, but it definitely engaged my interest. I also didn't find Davis's style to have become studied, trite or tiresome. And she certainly doesn't need lessons from anyone on how to write a good story. My final opinion: the book is a good read; and if you're leery about spending so much on a book that may or may not live up to your expectations, well, there is always the library. Because, truth to tell, I really do think that this is a book that no one should miss.