The Iron Hand of Mars (1992): Lindsey Davis

★★★½

Falco is in trouble. His girlfriend Helena has gone off in a strop because he’s forgotten her birthday, and Vespasian’s son Titus Caesar has stepped up his pursuit of said senatorial lady. Now Falco can’t find Helena to apologise, and Vespasian has given him another of those special god-awful tasks that seem to be kept on one side especially to make Falco’s life more difficult. To make matters worse, this particular task isn’t in Rome, or even in Italy. No: Falco is to be sent north, into the dark forests of Germany, on the very edges of the civilised world, to nose into the disappearance of a legionary commander, with no one at his side except the overly perfumed imperial barber Xanthus, who has chosen an unfortunate time to play tourist. Falco’s journey will take him to the extremities of the Pax Romana, in a world still reeling from the slaughter of Varus’s legions in the Teutoberg Forest sixty years before, and from the Batavian uprising two years earlier.

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Shadows in Bronze (1990): Lindsey Davis

★★★½

Marcus Didius Falco: Book 2

Time to head back to Ancient Rome, for some political skulduggery in the company of our overworked and underpaid Roman sleuth, Falco. This book slots in between The Silver Pigs and Venus in Copper, and follows Falco as he embarks on yet another over-complicated mission for his patron Vespasian. Falco is always great fun to read about: like Cadfael, he’s a vivid and lively character, whose world is meticulously historically accurate, but evoked with a light touch. Unlike Cadfael, he’s prickly, full of himself, and still young enough to be trying to find his feet in the world. In Shadows in Bronze, Vespasian orders him to mop up the loose ends left by the aristocratic conspiracy we saw in The Silver Pigs but, as Falco heads down to the opulent Bay of Naples to round up a couple of recalcitrant senators, he starts to get the uneasy feeling that he hasn’t seen the last of the plotters. Although his trip to Naples is dressed up to look like a family holiday, he swiftly realises that danger is never far away. To make matters worse, his cut-above-the-rest love interest, Helena Justina, is also enjoying a break on the Bay of Naples, and Falco’s personal and professional lives look set to collide once again.

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Venus in Copper (1991): Lindsey Davis

★★★½

Marcus Didius Falco: Book 3

Yes, all right, I’m reading out of order again. When I bought this book the other day, I knew that I had Book 2 lying around somewhere, but just couldn’t put my finger on it. Only now, as I write, have I noticed it staring at me accusingly from the bookshelf (if you’ve been to my flat, this state of mild book chaos will be understandable). I just couldn’t resist a touch of Roman comedy crime drama, so went ahead with Venus in Copper in the hope that I’d be able to catch up; and I have, though I’ve evidently missed a couple of crucial plot points for the wider series. In this instalment, our Roman gumshoe is hired for what seems to be an everyday kind of case: checking the credentials of a potential bride. But there are two catches. He’s been hired not by the groom, but by the groom’s sisters-in-law (the whole family being almost embarrassingly arriviste); and the problem is not the character of the bride so much as the fact that her last three husbands have died swiftly, in mysterious circumstances. What is Severina Zotica up to?

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The Silver Pigs (1989): Lindsey Davis

★★★

Marcus Didius Falco: Book I

Falco and I have been waiting for a long time to get to know each other. Now, as I come to the end of my review copies (just three to go before I have a clean slate!), I’ve decided to treat myself to an introduction to everyone’s favourite Roman sleuth. As you’ll have noticed, I tend to avoid historical mysteries, simply because they’ve become so much of a cliché in recent years; but I’m willing to make exceptions for Falco and for Cadfael, both of whom were in on the act before it became a bandwagon. Thanks to Master and God, I already knew that I loved Lindsey Davis’s writing style. This first Falco novel isn’t as polished as her more recent work, but it was heaps of fun and I’m eager to carry on.

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Master and God: Lindsey Davis

★★★★

An Epic of Rome, Tyranny and Love

I discovered this novel tucked away near the back of our little lending-library shelf at work. I’m not all that familiar with Lindsey Davis’s Falco books, but I’ve read the one where he goes to Alexandria and remembered enjoying it, so I decided to give this standalone novel a try. Like the Falco series it’s set in ancient Rome, this time roughly covering the period of the emperor Domitian, from 80-96 AD. However it isn’t a mystery and, as far as I know, the characters are entirely different from those in Falco. From the very first line (‘It was a quiet afternoon on the Via Flaminia‘) I was drawn into Davis’s world, and can honestly say that this has been one of the most heartwarming, lovable books I’ve read in a long time.

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