Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco Series #16)

Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco Series #16)

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by Lindsey Davis

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As an "informer"—a private detective—Marcus Didius Falco has an insider's knowledge of the Empire's less than glorious side. He's also been in the middle of its most dangerous secrets more than once. So when he's hired to find notorious gossip "scribe" Infamia, Marcus figures the missing

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As an "informer"—a private detective—Marcus Didius Falco has an insider's knowledge of the Empire's less than glorious side. He's also been in the middle of its most dangerous secrets more than once. So when he's hired to find notorious gossip "scribe" Infamia, Marcus figures the missing muckraker is either taking advantage of a vacation bribe from some wealthy wife—or resting up from injuries inflicted by some senator's henchmen. But instead of earning an easy fee, Marcus soon finds himself at odds against a sinister ring of pirates preying on the wealthy; a ruthlessly-vulgar construction magnate...and several of his own less-than-reputable family members. And what he uncovers will lead him through the dark byways and underground of the Empire's busiest seaport…where a cold-blooded killer with nothing to lose waits to bury one cynical informer for good...

"One of the best historical series...wisecracking humor, scathing social commentary, and rollicking adventure."

Detroit Free Press

"The Rome of Davis' imagination is licentious and entertaining."

San Jose Mercury News

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An excellent series."-Library Journal

"Witty and always enjoyable mysteries."—Washington Post Book World

"Davis' excellent and funny series [is] a cross between I, CLAUDIUS and MYSTERY!"

Rocky Mountain News

"A pure delight, with Davis's unique blend of wit and humor brilliantly immersing us in the marvels of ancient Roman life."—Good Book Guide on The Accusers

"Cheerful and informal cynicism in a solemnly detailed classical setting."

Times Literary Supplement on The Accusers

"An irresistible package of history, mystery, and fast-moving action, all punctuated by a sense of humor that few writers can match."—Cleveland Plain Dealer on Venus in Copper

"Davis is both a deft storyteller and a scholar…a top drawer series."—Newsday on The Iron hand of Mars

"Roman history and culture are nice accessories for the more durable tool that Davis employs—hilariously good writing."—Washington Post Book World on Last Act in Palmyra

"Davis's vision of everyday life in the Roman Empire is superb. I haven't read historical fiction this good since I, Claudius by Robert Graves and The Persian Boy by Mary Renault—and this is a lot funnier."—Detroit Free Press on Shadows in Bronze

"Lindsey Davis doesn't just bring Rome to life—she brings life to Rome better than anyone else ever has."—Detroit Free Press on The Iron Hand of Mars

Publishers Weekly
The Rome of Vespasian and Titus comes to life in Davis's entertaining 16th entry in her popular ancient historical series (after 2003's The Accuser) featuring "finder" Marcus Didius Falco. The staff of the official government newspaper retains Falco when Diocles, the paper's gossip columnist, disappears while on a visit to Ostia. At the seaport, a cesspool of corruption, Falco follows up on rumors that pirates, supposedly put out of business by Pompey the Great decades earlier, are engaged in smuggling and a kidnapping racket. Utilizing his street smarts and well-earned cynical view of humanity, Falco moves in and out of dives and places of worship on the trail of a mysterious figure who acts as the middleman between the kidnappers and the victims' families. Disturbingly, some of the clues point to one of the detective's disreputable relatives. Longtime fans will enjoy the additional background on Falco's family, but first-timers, aided by a family tree and an introductory cast of characters, will be able to plunge right in. Unlike Steven Saylor in his Roma Sub Rosa series, Davis makes less use of the history of the time. While her deliberately modern colloquialisms ("Go with the flow, man," Falco is told) take a little getting use to, they help maintain the light arch tone that also distinguishes these fun novels from Saylor's more serious tales. Agent, Jane Chelius. (Sept. 23) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this 16th mystery set in the Roman Empire (76 A.D.), Falco investigates the disappearance of the official scandal columnist for the Roman Daily Gazette. When last heard from, the scribe had been leaving for vacation at Ostia. The private informer notes with typical irony that at first this assignment "had all the signs of a nice little escapade that I could handle blindfolded," but he soon finds himself pursuing a bewildering and seemingly unconnected variety of leads that involve kidnappings, Mediterranean pirates, local dives, religious customs, a teenager's romance, and an outrageous funeral celebration. His independent inquiry is complicated somewhat by his helpful wife (a Senator's daughter) and their children, several other family members, and his best friend, a policeman. Falco and company are kindly, intelligent people who live in a brutal time; they survive with integrity intact through humor, loyalty to one another, and a tough acceptance of the inevitable. Readers might be daunted by lists of characters, maps with strange place names, Briticisms, or Falco's casually allusive narrative style, but those who persevere will be richly rewarded, becoming immersed in fascinating details of a distant time and place populated by recognizable human beings. Though this story can be read independently, the series is best read in order, beginning with Silver Pigs (Crown, 1991); the novels progress satisfyingly through Falco's life as they explore many far-flung corners of the Empire.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Marcus Didius Falco Series, #16
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.29(w) x 6.66(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

Scandal Takes a Holiday

By Lindsey Davis

Mysterious Press

Copyright © 2004 Lindsey Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-89296-812-5

Chapter One

If he chucks a stone, he's done for," muttered Petronius. "I'll have the little tyke ..."

It was a hot day along the waterfront at the mouth of the Tiber in Ostia. Petro and I had badly needed a drink. It was so hot we only made it to just outside the vigiles patrol house and into the first bar. This was a sad backtrack. Our principle had always been, "Never go into the first bar you see because it is bound to be rubbish." For the past fifteen years or so, since we met in the queue to enlist for the legions, whenever we sought refreshment we had always strolled a good distance away from home and work, in case we were followed and found. Actually we had sat in numerous bars that were rubbish-but not many that were full of associates we wanted to avoid and very few that our women knew about.

Don't get me wrong. We two were pious Romans with traditional values. Of course we admired our colleagues and adored our womenfolk. Just like old Brutus, any orator could say of us that Marcus Didius Falco and Lucius Petronius Longus were honorable men. And yes; the orator would make that claim with an irony even the most stupid mob would understand ...

As you can see, in the heat I had drunk up too quickly. I was already rambling. Petronius, the experienced inquiry chief of the Fourth Cohort of Vigiles in Rome, was a measured man. He had his large hand clamped around his wine-shop beaker but his heavy right arm was currently at rest on the warm boards of our sidewalk table while he enjoyed a long, slow descent into tipsiness.

He was here after putting his name down for detached duty. It was a pleasant life-especially since the villain he was waiting for never turned up. I was here to look for someone else-though I had not told Petro.

Ostia, the port for Rome, was vibrant but its vigiles patrol house was falling apart and the bar outside was terrible. The place was little more than a shack leaning against the patrol-house wall. After a fire, the vigiles rankers would block the side street as they crowded around with mugs of liquor, desperate to soothe their raw throats and usually just as desperate to complain about their officers. At present the street was almost empty, so we could squat on two low stools at a tiny table with our legs stuck out across the sidewalk. There were no other customers. The day shift were having a lie-down in the squad house, hoping that nobody set fire to an oily pan in a crowded apartment, or if they did that nobody sounded the alarm.

Petro and I were discussing our work and our women. Being still capable of two things at once, Petronius Longus was also watching the boy. The little lad was too intent; he looked like trouble. A giggling group would be annoying enough. But if this loner did hurl a rock through the doorway of the patrol house, then shout abuse and run away, he would run straight into my old friend.

Mind you, he was only about seven. Petronius would probably not break his arms or legs.

After Petronius had narrowed his eyes and watched for a while, he carried on talking. "So how's your billet, Falco?"

He was teasing and I scoffed, "I can see why you don't want to stay in it!"

Petro had been assigned a room inside the Ostia patrol house. He refused to occupy it, but had loaned the grim cell to me this week. We two had had our fill of barracks life when we were in the Second Augusta, our legion in Britain. Even marching camps in that remote province had been better organized than this dump. Ostia was mainly a four-month assignment, on rotation among the seven Rome cohorts; the provision was constantly under review, and it showed.

Off the Decumanus Maximus a short way inside the Rome Gate, the buildings had been thrown up in a hurry three decades ago when Claudius built his new harbor. He first brought some of the rough-and-ready urban cohorts to guard the spanking new warehouses. Fires in the granaries subsequently caused a rethink; they had upped the provision and replaced the urbans, who were general troops, with the more professional vigiles, who were specialist firefighters. Rome's vital corn supply ought to be safe with them, the people would be fed, the city would be free from riots, and everyone would love the Emperor, who had arranged it all.

The same happened here as in Rome: while on fire watch, especially at night, the vigiles found themselves apprehending not just arsonists but every kind of criminal. Now they policed the port and kept an eye on the town. The Ostians were still trying to get used to it.

Petronius, who knew how to run rings around his superiors, only got involved in day-to-day issues when it suited him. His special operation had no time limit, so he had brought his family with him. Nowadays Petro cohabited with my sister Maia, who had four children, and in Ostia he had a young daughter of his own with whom he wanted contact. To house them all he had managed to fiddle the loan of a mansion, borrowed from a very wealthy local contact of the vigiles. I had not yet worked out the angle there. But as a result, his unwanted room in the patrol house was mine. Lucky me.

"This squadron coop has well outlived its usefulness," I grumbled. "It's too small, it's dark, it's cramped, plus it's full of bad memories of villains who have been dragged in through the gate and never seen again. The latrine stinks. There is no cookhouse. Equipment is left all over the exercise yard because every detachment thinks if they are only here for four months they can leave it rotting there for the next group to tidy up."

"Yes, and there's mold in a big cistern underground," Petronius agreed cheekily.

"Oh, thanks. Don't tell my mother you have stuck me above some stagnant sink."

"I won't tell your mother," he promised, "if you promise not to tell your wife." He was frightened of Helena Justina. Quite rightly. My high-rank sweetheart had much stricter morals than most senators' daughters and she knew how to express her views. Petronius faked a contrite look. "Well, the room is rough and I'm sorry, Marcus. But you're not staying long, are you?"

"Of course not, Lucius, old pal."

I was lying. Lucius Petronius had welcomed me as if I had just come on a visit to see how he was. I was withholding news of my own commission in Ostia. Last year, when the Emperor sent me to Britain on some murky Palace errands, Petro had followed me out there. Only by chance did I learn that he was the lead player in a serious hunt for a major gangster. It still rankled that he had kept quiet. Now I was paying him back.

He drank his wine. Then he winced. I nodded. It was a filthy vintage.

Without a word, Petronius stood up. I stayed put. He walked slowly over to the little lad, who was still motionless outside the gate. They were about five strides from me.

"Hello, there." Petro sounded friendly enough. "What are you up to?"

The small boy had a thin body under a worn tunic. It was fairly clean, a muddy shade, a size too big for him, with one sleeve of a white undertunic showing. He did not look like a native of Ostia. It was impossible to tell his nationality, but the layers of clothes suggested Mediterranean; only crazies from the north strip off in the heat. He wore no belt, though he had beaten-up brown sandals with their straps curled by age. His hair was too long and there were dark circles under his eyes. But he had been fed. He was fit. His was the normal look of a lad from the artisan classes, maybe required to work hard at the family trade and then allowed to stay up far too late on long summer nights.

He stared up at Petronius Longus. What the boy saw was a big man waiting silently with a friendly expression, someone who might throw a beanbag about in an alley with the local children. The boy seemed streetwise yet clearly unaware that this was an officer whose slam-bang interrogation methods were a legend. All vigiles are hard, but Petronius could persuade incorrigible criminals to bleat out damning evidence against their favorite brothers. He could make them do it even if the brothers were innocent, although mostly he did prefer confessions of real guilt.

"What's your name?" I heard him ask.

"Zeno." The worst Zeno would suspect was an approach from a pervert. He looked the kind who knew to yell loudly and run.

"I am Petronius. So what's up, Zeno?"

Zeno said something, very quietly. Then Petro offered his hand and the boy took it. They walked over to me. I was already dropping coins on the table to pay for our wine. I had heard the boy's answer, and I knew what my friend would do.

"Falco, Zeno says that his mummy won't wake up." Petronius hid his foreboding. "Shall we go and see what has happened to her?"

From long experience, he and I reckoned that we knew.


Excerpted from Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis Copyright © 2004 by Lindsey Davis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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