It's a close-run thing. Two authors have made a speciality of brilliantly researched and highly atmospheric thrillers set in ancient Rome. Lindsey Davis is currently ahead on points, and the latest Falco thriller, A Body in the Bath House
, is quite the most diverting entry in the series yet. Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder series will have to scrabble to maintain this level. The highly impressive sleight-of-hand that Davis is so adept at is just as much in evidence here as in such previous entries in the series as Ode to a Banker
: while the sights, sound and smells of ancient Rome are conjured up with a truly pungent verisimilitude, Falco's modern sensibility never jars, and this Philip Marlowe of the ancient world remains a perfect conduit for the reader.
Cleverly extrapolating current fads, Davis demonstrates that even in AD 75 a passion for home improvement has gripped the Roman Empire. Falco is losing patience dealing with two cowboy builders who have been wreaking havoc on his bath house, but after the contract is finished, Falco and his father investigate hideous smells and find grisly human remains on the site. Simultaneously, in the primitive outpost of the Empire that is Britain, King Togidubnus is creating a spectacular new palace, but murderous accidents and corruption are bedevilling the project. Rome's Emperor Vespasian sends Falco to sort out the trouble, and this gives Falco a chance to escape from his dangerous feud with a Roman spy. Needless to say, as he penetrates to the heart of the mystery in Britain, his own life is (as usual) soon on the line with an implacable killer on his trail.
One would have thought that the law of diminishing returns would have kicked in by now, but this series goes from strength to strength. Taking up a Falco novel is an entrée into a world that is always colourful, always fascinating and always dangerous. --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In the 13th of this popular series (Ode to a Banker, etc.), Davis takes her witty and thoroughly likable Roman PI to Britain in 75 A.D. to investigate vast cost overruns at Fishbourne, a huge palace under construction to reward a local chieftain (now king) for aiding imperial legions to conquer his own people. Reluctant to leave the comforts of Rome while his newly widowed sister is being harassed by an unsavory suitor and he is switching houses with his errant father, our hero is browbeaten into the mission by boorish Emperor Vespasian. The whole family Falco journeys across Gaul to Britain's "ghastly terrain... where pasty-faced tribes still had not learned what to do with the sponge on the stick at public latrines." This tongue-in-cheek view of life's challenges nearly 2,000 years ago includes clever dialogue and quick-paced encounters between sophisticated Romans, who "deplore barbarian cruelty we prefer to invent our own," and sullen locals, especially Great King Togidubnus, who wants to keep his own primitive hut as part of the new palace architecture. Eventually, Falco becomes a target as Romans and Brits fight over everything from women to missing building supplies. In a prolonged and chaotic final chase sequence, Falco and his cohorts run through sleazy brothels and bars searching for culprits responsible for the bodies in the bathhouses, and Davis leaves us laughing at how little life has changed over the millennia.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the