Book Review: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

The fourth in the “Falco” series sees the titular character being sent to the barbarian frontier to deliver a new standard to Legio XIV Germania and to write a report on the state of them and their battle-readiness. The memory of the cataclysmic defeat in Teutoberg Forest is still fresh in the memory and Vespasian does not want a repeat of those events. Falco must also investigate claims of corruption by the legate and attempt to discover what happened to the previous legate who disappeared.

On the journey we finally meet Helena Justina’s brother, an amusing ladish character with whom Falco immediately hits it off. What’s more, his repugnant niece is on the scene to torment Falco at every turn and Vespasian’s son Titus has designs on Helena Justina. This is far more amusing book than the three that preceded it, but it doesn’t lose the quality of the typical historical crime fiction that we have come to expect from Davis.

The narrative is once again well researched, intricately plotted and fast moving. The great thing about Davis’ Falco novels is that you feel you are learning something about the first century Roman Empire while being entertained. Davis has developed a knack already for a free-flowing style of writing that has you turning page after page. And it is good to see that the overuse of exclamation marks is starting to slow down.

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