Unwillingly in partnership with Anacrites but happily and lucratively working on Vespasian’s tax census, Falco finds himself investigating the murder of an arena lion.
When the trail grows cold, Falco and family – extended to include drunken sot brother in law Famia and truculent teenage nephew Gaius – travel across the inner sea to the northern shores of Africa in search of Helena’s errant younger brother Camillus Justinus and Baetican heiress Claudia Rufina who we last saw eloping, at the end of Three Hands in the Fountain.
Here the plot lines converge as Falco and Co travel around the main towns of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, culminating in a denouement at the End of Harvest Games in Lepcis Magna.
Falco and new partner Petro are on the trail of a serial killer, whose victims start turning up piecemeal in Rome’s water supply. Helena is nursing new baby Julia and helping to keep their enquiries on track and Claudia Rufina, visiting from Beatica, is engaged to Helena’s brother Aelianus.
Anacrites is still lodging with Ma and becomes embroiled in the investigation on behalf of the Water Board.
Meanwhile Falco and Petro find themselves assigned an official patron/supervisor in the form of ex consul Frontinus.
Falco and heavily pregnant Helena travel to the Iberian peninsula to investigate a possible olive oil cartel, and the murder of a freelance investigator in Imperial employ and the potentially fatal attack on Falco’s arch enemy, and Palace Spy Master, Anacrites.
We get to see life in the provinces – warmer ones than those visited by Falco and Helena in previous adventures, but not as warm as their desert adventures en route to Palmyra. Still, at the extremities of Rome’s reach, there’s still plenty of social snobbery, politics, patronage and money making in play amongst the privileged elite.
Nux comes along to wreak her habitual happy havoc, and makes a cracker of an entrance before even leaving the civilised world of Imperial Rome:
“Hello, Nux.” Nux farted quietly, then turned round to survey her rear with mild surprise.
Falco and best mate Petro tackle organised crime on Rome – heists, kidnappings and child ransoms, brutal murders.
On the home front, Falco tackles the noble Helena about his suspicions as to the consequences of one particularly hot and steamy night in Palmyra…. And meets her elder younger brother, Aelianus – and his disapproval of their self declared marriage.
Amidst all this, we meet Nux, a lovable stray pooch who gets all the best lines:
“Watch yourself, furry! One false move and I’ll turn you into bootliners!”
No, not another Falco (although I did think it was when I borrowed it!)
If anything, I enjoyed The Course of Honour more than any of the Falco series I’ve read so far. (As does Kate Macdonald, I now recall.) It’s Lindsey Davis’ telling of the life and loves of a Roman woman, Caenis. Born a slave, she is trained as a secretary and by good fortune finds herself scribing for Emperor Claudius’ mother, Antonia. In due course, Antonia makes Caenis a freedwoman.