Davis' Roman super-sleuth Marcus Didus Falco returns to Britain in this tale and must investigate the death of a roguish courtier of King Togidubnus who ends up head first down a tavern well in a rather primitive Londonium. The town, still scarred by fires and devastation wrought by Queen Boudicca in the Iceni Revolt a little over a decade before, holds no pleasant memories for Falco, who served there with the Second Augusta. The Second Augusta Legion, under Petillius Cerialis, met Boudicca's eighty to one-hundred thousand rebels near Verulamium (modern St. Alban's ) with only two thousand Roman troops. Needless to say, few of the legion survived although Falco and his old friend Petro were among them.
Now, it seems gangsters from Rome have decided to exploit the new province. Falco discovers their hired muscle leaning on bakers, tavern keepers and even the local familia gladiatorix. Davis does a good job of conjuring up the rough and tumble world of this colonial village on the Thames but I found passages to be exasperating as Falco would discover important information that should have been reported to the governor right away but instead, Falco decides he's too tired and figures it can wait until the next day which, of course, is too late. The showdown between the imported thugs and the women gladiators seems more contrived than exciting and the villain's escape borders on the ridiculous.
I listened to the unabridged audio version of this book while I was exercising alone on my exercise bike and it's a good thing since I found myself blurting out derisive comments about Falco's contrived missteps.
Davis also has Petro acting remote and brooding for no particular reason and when the reason is finally revealed it doesn't really make any sense since Petro acknowledges he figured Falco would be watching his back. I also found it pretty implausible that Helena Justina would be wandering the seamier neighborhoods of this grimy little backwater with her young children in tow and no escort.
The frustrations I felt while reading this book were roughly equivalent to my generally negative reactions to "Last Act in Palmyra" and "See Delphi and Die". Each time I read one of the Falco mysteries, I am hoping to catch a glimpse of the solid writing and plot development I experienced reading "The Course of Honor", "Silver Pigs", and "The Iron Hand of Mars". Perhaps my biggest problem is that I don't really enjoy reading about a man who has such a negative view of life in general. I guess some people consider Falco an interesting curmudgeon but I've had enough interactions with negative personalities in the real world that I prefer not to spend my fantasy world with them.