Rome. Novomagius, Britannia, AD75. Falco (the spy who came in from the cold) is in cold, cold, cold Old Britannia, with memories to boot. It was here that he first met Helena Justina.
Falco arrives at Fishbourne and starts by investigating corrupt practices. However events quickly take a turn for the worse when the Chief Architect is found murdered in the bath-house of the British King. Falco takes over the project and investigates the killings.
Falco and his Father Geminus swap domiciles, and a body is found under the bath house floor mosaics. Falco has to investigate. Meanwhile, the Governor of Britain, Sextus Julius Frontinus, has requested Falco to assist him in a matter of a construction running overtime and over cost. Due his need to find the bath house builders (who are alleged to be in Britain) in order to resolve this death, Falco accepts Vespasian’s request to attend Frontinus and his need. Falco, wife and children, along with a troublesome nursemaid, his two brothers in law Justinus and Aelianus, and a desolate Maia, sail to Britain. Novomagius, and the kingdom of Togidubnus, to be precise.
Togidubus is a thoroughly Romanised king who had spent his formative years in Rome, thanks to his friendship with Vespasian, at the time Vespasian was leading the II Augusta legion. He is at home with Falco and his Latin lingua, and objects most strenuously to the Chief Architect and his plans to abandon his home and move him into a new palatial home, which was to become known as Fishbourne Palace.
Pomponius is as painful as his name, all pomposity, show, and tightly holding the reins of control (or so he thinks; there is much he is ignorant of around his building site, as Falco later discovers).
Immediately Falco arrives, he is embroiled in controversy and unexplained deaths begin to occur around him. Falco discovers there are labour rackets, theft of supplies and surplus equipment and building materials go missing. His time and experience as auditor and Censor in Rome come in handy and skills gained serve him well.
Although embroiled in controversy, the main contentions are feuds, territorial battles, confrontations, and tests of wills. Should Falco buckle and bow, then building accidents, which begin to occur around him, might multiply and take his life. He is the intruder, the outsider, the “Man from Rome” as Togidubnus’s right hand man Verovolcus calls him. There is a task to be completed. The new palace has to be completed within budget and within the available time and materials; Falco, along with his chits from Frontinus and Vespasian, has many delicate delegations.
Confrontation is the name of the game on the building site, and in other parts of Falco’s life. Falco avoids confrontations with Anacrites, in order to protect the life of his sister and children. He also has to avoid direct confrontation with Maia, in order that she go along with the group and remain alive, and see her children again. Must needs be, Falco seeks to avoid confrontation with Anacrites agent provocateur, Perella, who has come to complete a ten-year-old task. Pomponius seeks confrontation with Falco, who plays another game and firmly establishes his position as auditor. Magnus, the surveyor, takes up confrontations with Falco over his equipment being discovered in the bath house and used as implements of murder.
Perhaps the most challenging confrontation is that of the two different labour teams, the local labour, and the foreign labour, who turn to attack Falco saliently with menace. Building site tools, sacks, posts and nails are all dangerous implements. Life is a challenge, meet it, and meet it Falco does. Life is a game, play it. However foul the game becomes, Falco has to play it right in order to get the construction back on track and a peeved King Togidubnus appeased and agreeable to architects compromises.
Roman Bath House …
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