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Review: Lindsey Davis, Three Hands in the Fountain

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The Falco mysteries of Lindsey Davis, set in the Roman Empire of the 60's and 70's, are the sort of historical fiction that allow guys like me to say "historical fiction" with a straight face. As Three Hands in the Fountain follows more than a half-dozen predecessors in the series, I'll refrain from saying too much about the plot and characters, lest I betray Davis' secrets. Which makes this a short review.

The short version is that most series wane, especially when dominated by a single character for their whole course. (This is evident by the unevenness of Glen Cook's Black Company saga; as good as Cook can be(very), he falls into ruts and cuts corners occasionally.) Davis can't escape entropy, but hasn't written herself into to many corners. While the first couple of M. Didius Falco novels were terrific, the rest have been variously okay to very good. Nothing to sneeze at for any author. Three Hands in the Fountain falls cleanly in the middle of that range; while an entertaining read, moving along nicely, and concealing the critical whodunit until very late, it telegraphs a few side points, and never really moved me to concern or serious perplexity. Some of the plot really does feel like showing off Davis' research into Rome's fountain and aqueduct systems, though. While the rather geeky among us might be inclined to forgive, general readers might not be so kind.

I would definitely say that as a light read, in a week when I really needed one, Three Hands in the Fountain is a good choice. But for anyone who hasn't kept up with the series, go back to the beginning (The Silver Pigs) and follow along from there.

Lindsey Davis, Three Hands in the Fountain. Warner Books, 1996. ISBN 0-446-60774-6

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