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by Lindsey Davis
Mysterious Press, July 2001
358 pages
ISBN: 0892967404

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The bathhouse at Falco's new domicile on the Janiculan has never been finished properly, because, in the way of all contractors, his builders have decamped after partially completing the job. Falco doesn't really care too much as his father is now living in the new house while Falco, Helena and their children are living in Pa's old house along the banks of the Tiber.

Maia, Falco's sister, is being stalked by Anacrites, the Chief Spy. One night she returns home from work to find that all her belongings have been smashed. One of her sons brings Falco to the house while another goes for Petronius Longus and some vigiles. Petro's men take Maia and the children to the Janiculan, which is out of town, while Petro and Falco try to clean up.

One of the children refuses to bathe. There's a strange odor in the new bathhouse so Falco and his father break through the floor and find a very dead body buried beneath the shoddy mosaic. Falco has Helena's patrician brothers try to find the contractors. but they have left Rome. Vespasian has asked Falco to go to Britain to find out why the Great Palace a British tribal chief is building on the south coast is taking so long and is over budget.

This suits Falco, since he has heard that the miscreants who buried the body in the bathhouse are working on that project also, and, for safety sake, he wants to get his sister out of the jurisdiction of Anacrites. Maia won't leave her children, so Falco tricks her on board the ship that is to take him, his wife and children, the nursemaid, and Helena's brothers, to Britain. Her children are 'accidentally' left on the dock with Petro minding them

When they get to England, there is more intrigue and death, all tied to the building of a great palace for the English king. The local hires are fighting with the foreign tradesmen. Valuable building materials are disappearing from the site, or are being hijacked before reaching there. Interesting building techniques are described, as Falco goes along getting into trouble but solving the problems as only he can.

This is the 13th book in the series and it is just as fresh as the first, which, if I remember correctly, also took place in Britain, but only 5 years pass since that time, so her characters don't age too quickly. The basis for this book is an archeological dig in Fishburne, England, where a hitherto unknown palace was discovered a few years ago. I found this one more fascinating than last year's Ode to a Banker perhaps because I find architecture more interesting than finance. Of course, any of the Falco books could be subtitled "When in Rome, do in a Roman"

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, March 2002

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