Falco always was at his best when traveling about, grouching about how the locals aren't up to Roman standards while admitting to himself that the Romans aren't really up to Roman standards either. This book probably also isn't up to Roman standards, but fortunately for us, it is up to Falco standards. That's good enough for me.
Falco and Helena (and Albia and Nux but not the children) are on a trip to Greece. A couple of young Roman women have died under mysterious circumstances while touring with Seven Sights, the shadiest operators you would ever want to meet. Somehow Aulus has become involved, so Helena's mother wants Falco to take care of things. Everyone on the tour is a suspect.
So much for the plot -- it's not bad but it's definitely not the high point of the book. The puppet strings are just a little bit too visible. The mystery is not compelling but neither is it completely pro forma. All the evidence is hidden in plain sight, and it was possible for the reader to figure it all out just about the same time that Falco did.
However, the cynical Falco dialogue is sparkling, and the characterization of Falco and Helena and their party is first rate. Davis seems to have found her voice again with the new, respectable Falco after struggling for several books while he made the transition into the landed gentry.
"Like most students, he was not at all surprised to find six people, some of whom he had never met before, fast asleep in his room. After the briefest of pauses, Gaius feigned an apology: 'Any friend of Uncle Marcus is ... an idiot.'"
The book is full of details about the grimy and sometimes slimy side of tourism, particularly tourism in a legendary but now backwater place like Roman-era Greece. The investigation starts in Olympia, moves to Corinth, then to Delphi, and finally to Athens. Along the way Davis plays tour guide, even as she lampoons the actual tour guides Falco et al. encounter.
Even better, the book is full of odd and offbeat characters, the kind that always made the older Falco books so amusing. From Olympic champions to incompetent poets to drunken philosophers and back to bemused Romans, Falco and the reader are treated to a menagery of funny, strange, annoying, but nevertheless real people. There is none of the grim desperation that some of the darker books have had, even though there are a few tense and scary moments. Instead we see Falco moving into a successful life as a mostly respectable upper middle class family man. He still has his Aventine roots intact, but he is finally comfortable with branching out from them.
After 16 previous books it is a little too much to ask for this one to be the best yet, but it's certainly in the top half.