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by Lindsey Davis
Mysterious Press, July 2001
358 pages
ISBN: 0892967404

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In his 12th adventure, Marcus Didius Falco, private informer/poet tangles with the publishing and banking industries of ancient Rome. With his usual luck, his poetry reading is co-opted by a rowdy bunch, led by a vanity publisher of Greek descent. When the man is later found murdered, Falco is asked to act for the Vigiles by his friend Petrontius Longus, and determine who killed Chryssipus. He accepts, and discovers the links between Chrysippus' publishing and banking establishments, and the inner workings of both professions in the ancient world.

The subplot involves Anacrites', Vespasian's chief spy and boarder at the home of Marcus' mother, who seems to be attracted to both Ma and Falco's widowed sister, Maia. Falco's father, who had left the family many years before to live with another woman, is fast spiraling down after the death of his paramour, and Helena Justina comes up with a plan to help him and Maia as well.

It's the middle of a hot summer in Rome, AD 74 and Falco has been dragged into the middle class. Now he is a property owner but he and Helena Justina and their baby are still living in the slum while waiting for the bathhouse contractors at their new home to show up. Seems as though contractors haven't changed in almost 2000 years.

The plot on this one seems to have been dragged into existence. The flavor of Rome is there, the characters are as well drawn as before, but the sparkle seems to have gone out of the book. Perhaps Davis just assumes we all know enough about the main characters to fill in the blanks ourselves, or banking in the ancient world was just as corrupt and boring as banking today. The earlier books in the series took Falco to many parts of the Roman Empire and are worth searching out. Perhaps the next one will regain some of the panache of those earlier ones.

Note:This is a review of the UK paperback The cover of which is taken from a Roman wall painting now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This version is available from Crime in Store (CrimeBks@aol.com). The US paperback will be issued in September of 2002 with the cover as shown on the US hardcover above.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, March 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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