That cynical gum-sandal and paterfamilias with a heart of gold, Marcus Didius Falco (Ode to a Banker, 2001, etc.) travels to a cold and uncivilized outpost of the Empire—Britain—to take on an audit job for the Emperor, who is financing a new palace for the Togidubnus, king of the British barbarians. Construction is way over budget and behind schedule, a contemporary problem endemic to ancient Rome as well. (That, by the way, is the novel’s only joke, repeated, as Falco would say, ad infinitum.) Falco doesn’t want to go, but he does want to escape two unpleasant Roman situations: a corpse he discovered in his father’s newly remodeled bathhouse, apparently killed and buried by the departed contractors, and his sister Maia’s stalking by Falco’s nemesis, Anacrites. Falco bundles up his wife, daughters, sister, nanny, dog, and two brothers-in-law and takes off for Noviomagus Regnensis—modern-day Fishburne, England, where he has a lot of fun (the reader may not) uncovering fraud and incompetence, naturally alienating fraudulent and incompetent members of the construction crew, who try to kill him. There are frauds within frauds, however, and when the architect is strangled with the surveyor’s string—in the bathhouse, naturally—Falco needs to sort them out quickly. Then Anacrites’ most deadly assassin, the dancer Perella, arrives, and Togidubnus’ former architect is found dead, his throat cut using Perella’s signature technique. Is Maia next?
Old fans and unhappy owners of remodeled homes will enjoy this excursion; others may send Falco a change order.