Book Review: A Body in the Bathhouse by Lindsey Davis

Book…well I don’t know how many in the Falco series of historical crime comedies from one of the UK’s best writers in the genre. Finally elevated to Equestrian status (something that happened a few books back), Falco sets to work on building a bathhouse at this still modest home. He may have official title from Vespasian, but Procurator of the Sacred Geese of the Temple of Juno probably doesn’t pay that well anyway.

Nothing ever goes swimmingly for our protagonist and at the end of the first chapter, he is already discovering bodies. A rotting corpse in the foundations is only the start of his troubles. Helena Justina has just given birth for a second time. Far from congratulating him, Emperor Vespasian just wants him to go to Britannia to oversee the construction of Togidubnus’ new palace (what today we call Fishbourne Palace). It’s over deadline and over budget, and Vespasian doesn’t trust Anacrites with the job; who else than Rome’s favourite informer?

While we are on the subject of the Greek spy, he has started stalking Falco’s sister Maia following the end of a brief flirtation (Maia is now in a relationship with Falco’s long tem friend Petronius Longus). One particular incident forces Falco to rethink his refusal of Vespasian’s generous offer to travel to Britannia and so it is off to the north, away from the warmth of the Mediterranean with him and the entire entourage, to escape Anacrites’ deadly obsession.

A bit of a squee moment for me as I know Fishbourne Palace really well. I’ve been about four times and what is uncovered on public display is truly astonishing. It is enormous with some incredibly beautiful mosaics (like the one pictured). What is even more eye opening is that so much of it is still under ground and under the modem housing.

But anyway, I am straying into archaeology nerd territory and this is supposed to be as book review. As ever, the carefully interwoven narrative is as entertaining as it is educational, as gripping a thriller as it is hilarious. Comedy has always played a big part of this series, but so has tragedy and you won’t find much different here. Davis is in her stride and the book carefully juxtaposes long tem development with the short term story plot.

You know what to expect from the style now; Davis’ style works and is, and has always been, an easy read. I have always admired the way she blends informative narrative with good storytelling and that is testament to how popular a crime series the Falco books are.

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