Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If Travis McGee traveled in time back to treacherous, civilized Rome in 72 A.D., he might be something like Marcus Didius Falco. Appearing in his sixth adventure, the resourceful, bantering court investigator, who is graced with more humor than his south Florida counterpart and who hates injustice without being a drone about it, is such a regular guy that it's easy to forget he's not speaking figuratively when he talks about the latest model of chariot. Falco was denied a promised promotion into the upper class by the emperor Vespasian after his last escapade (in Poseidon's Gold), a promotion required for him to marry his lover, the patrician Helena Justina. To get out of town with Helena, he takes on a job for one of the emperor's less trustworthy underlings, heading for Syria to do a little snooping; at the same time he's also on the lookout for a runaway girl who may have been kidnapped by a Syrian. While sightseeing, Falco and Helena discover, in a cistern, the body of a playwright who had been with an acting troupe out of Rome. For various reasons, Falco and Helena sign on with the troupe in order to find the killer, with Falco taking on the little appreciated duties of the playwright for cover. Accompanying the troupe on their travels, readers get a history lesson they may wish they had had in high school, all the while being treated to a polished narrative. (Mar.)
Marcus Didius Falco, first-century Roman private eye, searches for a beautiful circus musician while also working for the emperor's chief spy. Falco's girlfriend, Helena, accompanies him to Syria, where they are both accused of murder. Excellent historical fiction.
An unusual angle and some spirited writing characterize Davis' latest entry in her popular mystery series set in ancient Rome. Columbo in a toga, Marcus Didius Falco is a shambling, self-deprecating, bumbling hero whose unorthodox crime-solving methods nevertheless get results. Falco's latest adventure--taken in the company of his bossy beloved, Helena Justina--is double trouble. First, he's supposed to find a missing circus musician whose fine physical attributes are as bountiful as her musical skills. Second, Falco's sometime benefactor, Emperor Vespasian, wants him to undertake a dangerous spying mission to Petra, a rich market town that Vespasian may want to acquire for the Roman empire. A mysterious murder soon after Falco and Helena reach Petra nearly lands the two in prison--but not for long. Soon they are traveling with a band of thespians in search of the murderer and the missing musician. A delightful adventure that's charming, witty, intriguing, and clever.
It's a.d. 72 and once again detective-informer Marcus Didius Falco (The Iron Hand of Mars, 1993, etc.) undertakes a missionthis time for Emperor Vespasian's spymaster Anacritesto gather information on the land of Nabatea, which Rome has ideas of annexing. Falco will also be looking for Sophrona, the water organist for his circus-owner friend Thalia who vanished one day with a group of visiting Syrians. With his elegant mistress and partner Helena, Falco is climbing a sacred mountain in the desert city of Petra when he discovers a strangled body in a cistern near the peak. The victim turns out to be Heliodorus, playwright for a troupe headed by one Chremes and including clowns Tranio and Grumio, leading man Philocrates, leading lady Phrygia, several musicians, and others. Vaguely threatened by The Brotherthe master priest of the mountain, who seems aware of his missionand certain that Heliodorus' murderer is one of the troupe, Falco accepts Chremes's invitation to replace the dead man in the companyalong with Helena, of course. Traveling laboriously through terrain either hostile or hospitable, Falco and Helena become part of the troupecoping with a second murder, almost accidentally accomplishing Falco's mission for Thalia, and eventually unmasking the killer.
Falco's mind-set here is 20th-century wiseguy, a concept, riddled with leaden irony and jokey asides, that rapidly palls. Scholars of the period and of theater history may be fascinated by the lengthily detailed and no doubt impeccably researched accounts of touring companies, towns, and countryside. For others: a long, dull journey.