This marks the nineteenth outing for the Roman informer (private detective) Marcus Didius Falco. Each book in the series centers on a specific Roman institution: the baths (Body in the Bathhouse), the beasts gathered for Roman games (Two for the Lions), or the water supply (Three Hands in the Fountain). This time it’s ancient libraries, with Falco paying a visit to the most famous of them all. As always, Falco has one foot firmly in the Roman world with meticulous observations of its customs, and the other in the contemporary world with all the conventions of a modern detective novel.
This time the relevant corpse is discovered in an unlocked room in a library, and the cast of suspects include those aspiring to the job of head librarian. Even in the quiet of a scholarly institution, Falco encounters a ravenous crocodile, apparently escaped from its pen, and chases one of the bad guys all the way to the top of one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Falco’s most difficult problems always come from dealing with his family, including in-laws, children, nieces, nephews, dogs, and a reprobate father, Falco’s wife, Helena Justina, helps him on all his cases, making them an ancient version of Nick and Nora but with watered wine in place of powerful cocktails.
This book is fun as always, even if Davis rarely gives us enough clues to give us a fair chance to figure out whodunnit. Recommended.