So here we are at book ten of Davis’ popular Falco novels. Marcus Didius Falco, the hapless private detective is still playing nursemaid cum bodyguard cum business partner to his long-time enemy Anacrites when he is called to assist with Vespasian’s ‘Great Census’.
Ever the good citizen *snort* and loyal subject of the Flavians *double snort*, Falco
willingly accepts sees the opportunity to fast track his social climb and soon stubmles into his most unusual case yet. While recording the assets of a slave trader, he is thrust into investigating the curious case of a murdered lion – the prized executioner Leonidas. This opens up a whole can of worms including a bitter rivalry between gladiators, slave traders and more revealed plots to poison further esteemed animals of the Roman world: ostriches and sacred geese.
When the chief suspect of the Leonidas’ murder is himself killed, Falco and Anacrites are at a loss and Falco expresses his exasperation in a short passage of near-metatheatre when he points out the cliche of crime fiction where the protagonists give up only to find a clue by accident. The next chapter reads only:
Hello. Still waiting for an unexpected development? There was none. It happens. It happens all the time.
Priceless! Anyway, on with the summary/review…
When a mysterious benefactor offers Falco a commission, he eventually travels to North Africa and the old lands of Carthage to solve the mystery.
At a shade short of 400 pages, it is the typical length of a Falco novel. Though the pacing does slow down in the middle, you know that there is always something around the corner to shake up the story again. It is in this middle section that we get a bit of an update on the Falco and Justinus families. It is a welcome break from the talk of animal murderings. Yes there are the customary laughs but not as many as perhaps in some previous efforts.
This is a slightly more eccentric offering than previous efforts with far less focus on the growing Falco clan and more on an intriguing, bizarre and in some ways madcap plotting to show the cutthroat world of the Roman games. An interesting addition to the series; the high quality of Davis’ writing continues.
Onto book 11 then…