A locked-room murder provides Marcus Didius Falco with an intriguing challenge in Davis's 19th novel to feature the first-century Roman sleuth (after 2007's Saturnalia). In the spring of A.D. 77, while on vacation with his family in Alexandria, Egypt, Falco is stunned to get word that Theon, the Great Library's head librarian, with whom he just dined, has been found dead with neither marks of violence on the body nor evidence of how the killer got away from the scene of the crime. Falco probes the academic politics surrounding the Great Library to determine whether one of Theon's potential successors was the culprit. Other deaths follow, including that of a philosophy student, mauled by a crocodile that escaped from the local zoo. While the impossible crime's solution may disappoint some readers, the twisty plot with its various false leads and the author's plausible depiction of ancient Alexandria make this one of the stronger entries in this solid historical series. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Even spies age, but fortunately Marcus Didius Falco-"informer" for the Roman emperor in the first century C.E.-is aging with grace. What makes Davis's long-standing series so indelible is the expert blend of Falco's wisecracking observations and crazy family life with some masterly suspense. In this latest, Falco has taken his pregnant wife, two daughters, and brother-in-law to Alexandria on what is ostensibly a vacation. (They're staying at the house of his wayward uncle and the uncle's partner.) In fact, Falco is charged with keeping his eye on things, and indeed trouble brews right away-the Librarian of Alexandria's great library is found dead in his sealed office. There's been plenty of controversy surrounding the Librarian already, and the controversy over who will succeed him turns bloody. Who knew that the race for a top library spot could be so intriguing? The mystery is intricately plotted, the characters are well drawn, and Falco is as engaging a protagonist as ever, still tough but wiser and more reflective, too. Another winner for historical mystery fans. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ1/09.]
Adult/High School—This is the 17th entry in Davis's popular series about a Roman private "informer" (read private investigator). He normally works for the emperor, but while on vacation in Egypt with his family, Falco is pressed into service as the lead investigator in a high-profile case. The head librarian at Alexandria has been found dead, and all indications suggest murder. The mystery is of the cozy whodunit type with plenty of false trails and suspects galore, clever repartee, and layers of motives to dig through. The setting is lush first-century Egypt, and the period detail is interesting; the characters, both main and secondary, are fully fleshed out. There are some odd notes, such as Falco's offhand references to forensic techniques far ahead of his time and his modern attitude toward his wife, which can be distracting. A very large cast of recurring characters with numerous variations on their names makes this a difficult book to read as a stand-alone, but it should be popular in libraries that have mystery lovers or Falco devotees.—Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI
The 19th adventure of Marcus Didius Falco, the Roman imperial agent and informer (Saturnalia, 2007, etc.), takes him to Alexandria in 77 CE. Falco has nothing on his mind but sightseeing in the colonies with his pregnant wife and rambunctious daughters, but their arrival at his uncle's home in Egypt is almost instantly marred by that ruin of any vacation, the tedious dinner guest. The librarian is so ill-tempered that it's a relief when he turns up dead in a hackneyed locked-room setup. As Falco investigates, he learns that the politics of the famed Library of Alexandria are just as petty as those of any modern academic analogue. The grasping lawyer, the silent astronomer, the equivocating philosopher, the practical zoologist and the public-minded curator are all competing for the dead man's position in a corrupt bureaucracy. Beset by every manner of distraction from dancing girls to crocodiles to his own incorrigible father, Falco still finds himself more and more deeply immersed in the scholars' schemes. Though others solve the puzzles of the substance that killed the librarian and how the door came to be locked, and Falco grossly misjudges the character of the murderer, his failures ruffle his smug sense of self-satisfaction not at all. Like watching a slideshow of vacation photos narrated by your most pompous relative-predictable, condescending and cliched.
“The mystery is intricately plotted, the characters are well drawn, and Falco is as engaging a protagonist as ever, still tough but wiser and more reflective, too. Another winner for historical mystery fans.” Library Journal
“The twisty plot with its various false leads and the author's plausible depiction of ancient Alexandria make this one of the stronger entries in this solid historical series.” School Library Journal
“The period detail is interesting; the characters, both main and secondary, are fully fleshed out.” School Library Journal