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A Body in the Bathhouse [Paperback]

Lindsey Davis
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 24 2002 Falco (Book 13)
AD75. Marcus Didius Falco, once a common informer, now middle class, discovers that newly acquired rank brings associated problems, the most gruesome of which is a corpse buried under the tiles of his new bath house. The contractors have fled to Britain whence, as the Fates have it, Falco is ordered. A local chief and ally of the Romans is having a Palace built by the Emperor Vespasian. However the project is running late, work is slipshod, and fatal accidents keep happening. Somewhere on site are the murderers who may be behind this latest spate of killings. Somewhere in the forefront, trouble-shooting for the Emperor is Falco, without an ally and now next on the list for assassination.

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From Amazon

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 Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Back to Britannia Dec 30 2003
Format:Paperback
Falco revisits old haunts here, returning to Britain "five years" after the start of this series. In the interim he's had many far-flung adventures in increasingly domesticated situations.
The setting provides numerous opportunities for Davis to take jabs at her fellow Britons, while developing Falco's sleuthing after misbegotten building contractors-as if the caustic author were revenging herself on a bad personal experience. The first two-thirds of the story is more scornful witticisms than it is mysterious. Oh, right, there are some bodies falling from the scaffolding but what can you expect on an imperial construction site in barbarian Britannia? Falco has it easy for over 200 pages of banter with hardly a hint of suspense among the evident corruption. Davis is true to the modern archaeological finds at Fishbourne in that the construction of the royal palace hardly rises above its foundations. The story is more fun for its incidents and argot than plot and action. Falco's final apprehension of the miscreants makes little sense because it's so accidental. The slow pace of the first two-thirds of the story corroborates my previous suggestion that Davis, and Falco, are best when they stay close to Rome rather than gallivanting about the Empire into some provincial backwater like Palmyra, Corduba, or Britannia. This volume is not one of my favorites in the series.
This book should be read after Ode To A Banker because some issues and nefarious characters there continue here, along with Falco and his now familiar menagerie. Actually, this volume is the middle of a trilogy that concludes in The Jupiter Myth (still in hardback at this writing). The cover art on my pb copy (with the new circular mosaic theme) differs from that shown on Amazon.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Better in Rome Sept. 12 2002
By ilmk
Format:Hardcover
This latest offering from Lindsey Davis only confirms, I think, that, unlike JMR's Decius Caecilius Metellus, Marcus Didius Falco doesn't travel very well.
A return to Britain after the opening Silver Pigs novel was always going to be interesting but this one ends up firmly mired in the mud of the villa that is being built. You get the impression that there was so much potential, as Marcus and Helena followed their suspect builders, Glaucus and Cotta - from their appearance in 'One Virgin Too Many' - across Gaul to southern Britain, that Davis ended up with too many threads to this novel to neatly conclude. What should, perhaps, have been a larger novel suddenly got crammed. The other disappointment is that the murder mystery technique is weak so it is obvious pretty quickly who the murderer is before we end up on a race across the roof tiles.
Davis continues the character development as Maia is in tow, fleeing from an imaginary spy - though it is implied to be Anacrites - with Petronius Longus looking after the children (the funniest bit comes right at the end from Marcus' nephew as Marcus finally tracks down the hapless Glaucus and Cotta).
After a murder of the site manager, Falco works his way through the artisans and workers on the site, deals with some intricate local politics and eventually get his culprit.
Unfortunately, a ranking of Falco novels would place this somewhere near the bottom as the whole effort is rather muddied and obvious. I look forward to Falco returning to Rome where he is in his element.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable June 20 2003
Format:Hardcover
Lovely job. This one was just plain fun once it got started. It reads well. I don't think Ms. Davis' strength has ever been the puzzle. No one would mistake her for Agatha Christie. On the other hand, she's a lot more enjoyable to read. Yes, one could wish the mystery were tidied up better, but then the whole thing might not be so nicely spiced. As it is, I enjoyed myself hugely. (Note the wonderful "Briton" playright who gets by without royalties by being popular with the general public and hence sharing in the ticket sales. Several rather delicious references to a Vespasian-era Shakespeare. We were amused.)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superior detail--funny and rich Dec 6 2002
By booksforabuck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's been a tough time for Roman informant Falco. First he and his father discover a decomposing body buried under the tiles of his bathhouse. Second, his chief rival begins stalking his sister. Third, Emperor Vespasian wants him to go to Britain to sort out a building project gone bad. Finally, Falco's been asked to find work for his wife's overly energetic but highly impractical brothers. When the chief murder suspects turn up missing, Falco decides to go where the biggest building project is located--Britain--even though he hates that dreary island.
Britain is every bit as dreary as Falco remembers from his days in the military, and it's still a sleepy province far from the civilization of Rome. But Vespasian wants to build a fancy palace for one of the few local kings who supported Rome during a recent rebellion--and he doesn't want to have to pay too much. Falco finds the building crews at war with one another, and nasty hints that the corruption goes even deeper than is usual. Unfortunately, those who benefit from the graft want to keep things just the way they are. It's up to Falco to sort out the problems without creating a diplomatic crisis for his Emperor. Fortunately, Falco's brothers-in-law turn out to be hard-working, if impractical, and his wife, Helena remains a pillar of strength. Which is lucky when the body count really starts to mount.
Author Lindsey Davis delivers an exciting and amusing tale of mystery and history. Falco is a richly detailed character with a lot going on in his life and a lot of constraints that keep him from just throwing out all the scoundrels and starting over. Davis weaves together the multiple mysteries in the novel into a complete whole, gives an intriguing glimpse into what Rome and its provinces might have been like when Rome really did rule the world, and does it with a light tough that keeps the pages turning.
A BODY IN THE BATHHOUSE is a fine and rewarding mystery.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better in Rome Sept. 12 2002
By ilmk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This latest offering from Lindsey Davis only confirms, I think, that, unlike JMR's Decius Caecilius Metellus, Marcus Didius Falco doesn't travel very well.
A return to Britain after the opening Silver Pigs novel was always going to be interesting but this one ends up firmly mired in the mud of the villa that is being built. You get the impression that there was so much potential, as Marcus and Helena followed their suspect builders, Glaucus and Cotta - from their appearance in 'One Virgin Too Many' - across Gaul to southern Britain, that Davis ended up with too many threads to this novel to neatly conclude. What should, perhaps, have been a larger novel suddenly got crammed. The other disappointment is that the murder mystery technique is weak so it is obvious pretty quickly who the murderer is before we end up on a race across the roof tiles.
Davis continues the character development as Maia is in tow, fleeing from an imaginary spy - though it is implied to be Anacrites - with Petronius Longus looking after the children (the funniest bit comes right at the end from Marcus' nephew as Marcus finally tracks down the hapless Glaucus and Cotta).
After a murder of the site manager, Falco works his way through the artisans and workers on the site, deals with some intricate local politics and eventually get his culprit.
Unfortunately, a ranking of Falco novels would place this somewhere near the bottom as the whole effort is rather muddied and obvious. I look forward to Falco returning to Rome where he is in his element.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If Philip Marlowe Had A Lot of Relatives... Nov. 18 2002
By G. Malloy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The thing about most detectives is that they're loners. But...sometimes down these mean streets a man must walk...around the corner to his mom's house. And so what? I always wondered what would happen if the great detectives had families; if Philip Marlowe had had an annoying brother in law, or a cousin with gender-identity issues, etc. Most people do have families, and one of the things I like best about Falco is that his involvement with his family, as well as being typically Roman, makes him both more believable and more interesting.
Yes, sometimes the details do get muddled up, and the publishers should [bump] their proofreader on the back of the head, but this book is very well worth reading; the tidal wave of archaeological and historical detail is refreshing, and Davis manages to concoct yet another end-of-the-book welter of chaos and carnage that manages to be different from the previous rucks.
Fun to read, sharp and intelligent...except for Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January books, I haven't enjoyed historical fiction , or believed in its re-created worlds, this much since Mary Renault died.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Back to Britannia Dec 30 2003
By tertius3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Falco revisits old haunts here, returning to Britain "five years" after the start of this series. In the interim he's had many far-flung adventures in increasingly domesticated situations.
The setting provides numerous opportunities for Davis to take jabs at her fellow Britons, while developing Falco's sleuthing after misbegotten building contractors-as if the caustic author were revenging herself on a bad personal experience. The first two-thirds of the story is more scornful witticisms than it is mysterious. Oh, right, there are some bodies falling from the scaffolding but what can you expect on an imperial construction site in barbarian Britannia? Falco has it easy for over 200 pages of banter with hardly a hint of suspense among the evident corruption. Davis is true to the modern archaeological finds at Fishbourne in that the construction of the royal palace hardly rises above its foundations. The story is more fun for its incidents and argot than plot and action. Falco's final apprehension of the miscreants makes little sense because it's so accidental. The slow pace of the first two-thirds of the story corroborates my previous suggestion that Davis, and Falco, are best when they stay close to Rome rather than gallivanting about the Empire into some provincial backwater like Palmyra, Corduba, or Britannia. This volume is not one of my favorites in the series.
This book should be read after Ode To A Banker because some issues and nefarious characters there continue here, along with Falco and his now familiar menagerie. Actually, this volume is the middle of a trilogy that concludes in The Jupiter Myth (still in hardback at this writing). The cover art on my pb copy (with the new circular mosaic theme) differs from that shown on Amazon.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All Wet Sept. 22 2002
By Author Bill Peschel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"A Body in the Bathhouse" is a mix of the world-weary investigator tinged with the dullness of life in the Britain of 75 A.D. Marcus Didius Falco is an informer for the emperor. He's walks the mean streets of Rome and like most detectives has seen it all, but he soldiers on because he has a wife he loves and children and relatives he tolerates and supports. He also has a ne'er-do-well father whose bathhouse was recently renovated, but the contractors left a smell under the newly laid mosaic floor that leads shortly to the use of pickaxes followed by the inevitable discovery.
Then the story veers northward. From a brief investigation, largely off-stage, Falco suspects two notorious contractors of doing the deed and high-tailing it out of town, to join a massive building project on the coast of Britain. He never explains how he came to this conclusion. It's not only the sole building project in the entire empire, but by a marvelous coincidence, the emperor also wants Falco to go there, to look into a palace being built for the local king that's over budget and behind schedule.
For added story interest, the rest of Falco's family gets dragged along, starting with his wife and their two infants. Since Falco's sister recently dumped the emperor's chief spy, who trashed her house, she comes along as well. Then there are the two cousins, both young and worthless men, who want to learn the informing business.
After a brief, tedious trip through Gaul, they arrive at the building site, Falco meets the king, the architect (arrogant, as always) and the subcontractors, so we get page after page of discussions about sedimented facades, interior flow-throughs, sight-lines, triple-succession promenades, and soon the eyes begin to glaze over when this is followed by a discussion about how building projects were financed and how the bookkeeping was done, and soon you're wishing that you were that body in the bathhouse because then you'll miss all of this.
It takes about 230 pages to set up the dominos which fall in the last third. That's when things start happening, mostly of the running around and beating up or avoiding getting beat up kind, but at least it gets us out of the Roman Empire edition of "Hometime." But there's no real detection going on, and threats foreshadowed through most of the book fizzle out like a damp squibs. Everything turns out all right in the end, of course, and the soap opera situations are mildly diverting, but "Bathhouse" needed a stronger foundation to become a more compelling story.
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