BEST NEW BOOK; THE JUPITER MYTH by Lindsey Davis (Century, pounds 16.99).
It sees Marcus Didius Falco, Imperial Rome's wisecracking investigator, visiting Britain for a holiday but ending up playing diplomat again. The renegade henchman of Rome's vital ally, King Togidubnus, has been stuffed head-first down a bar-room well - leading to a tricky situation which Falco must diffuse.
One murder leads to many others. Londinium now has a forum and an amphitheatre. The town is a magnet for legitimate traders - and for criminals for Rome. Drinking dens are plundered by extortionists, prostitution reigns in the dark streets - even the army turns a blind eye. With his friend Petronius, Falco leads the hunt for gangsters who are intent on taking over. This brings unwelcome encounters with faces from the past and grave threats to their present relationships.
Danger and death lurk throughout their pursuit, all the way from the brand new wharves beside the River Thamesis to the familiar old haunts of organised crime back home in Italy. This novel manages to weave together history and a good old detective story amid the bleak depictions of black Londinium.