Three Hands in the Fountain (Lindsey Davis, 1996) is quite a disappointment. Although genuinely funny, with good dialogue, the plot is a mess.
The setting is Rome, vividly depicted, and seen through the eyes of a plebeian, with emphasis on the waterworks, "a vital state concern, and had been for centuries. Its bureaucracy was an elaborate mycelium whose black tentacles crept right to the top", and on the bureaucratic complications of the aqueducts. To these waterworks, someone is adding various pieces of human anatomy-gore, with much scope for black comedy. It soon becomes apparent that the murders are linked to the many Roman Games, giving the informer hero Marcus Didius Falco "an excellent excuse to spend much of the next two months enjoying himself in the sporting arenas of our great city-all the while calling it work". The atmosphere of "watching scores of gladiators being sliced up while the Emperor snored discreetly in his gilded box and the best pick-pockets in the world worked the crowds" is vivid and almost tangible.
Setting, therefore, is quite good (although certainly not comparable to the brilliant depiction of Rome in Robert Graves' superb I, CLAUDIUS). What is not so good is the actual plot: the detection is not very good, with few clues to speak of, and no suspects; and the murderer's identity is a complete let-down, completely characterless, and introduced on page 231 of 294. This is not what I expect from an author The Times suggested as being "well suited to assume ... the title Queen of the Historical Whodunnit".