Falco and Helena head east, to the kingdom of Nabatea and the Decapolis. Officially they are searching for a missing water organ player from snake charmer Thalia’s troupe; unofficially Falco is unexpectedly and unwillingly working for Imperial spymaster, and arch enemy, Anacrites.
The unofficial mission disappears almost as soon as they get to Petra, where they stumble across a dead body and fall in with with a touring group of theatricals.
Falco’s thespian side is unleashed as he, Helena and Nabatean priest/minder Musa try to work out who the murderer is.
Falco and Helena return to Rome after their adventures in Germania, straight into the bosom of Falco’s difficult family.
An army friend of his elder brother, Festus – who died a hero’s death in the Judean War – has lodged himself in Ma’s home and proceeds to make trouble for the Didius family, and Falco in particular.
We get to meet Falco’s errant father, Geminus, too and end up spending a lot of time in the company of The Didius Boys in a plot that revolves around stolen art, Mediterranean shipping, soldiers’ pay, Greek statues and auctions.
A thoroughly enjoyable romp on the wrong (non-Roman) side of the Rhenus / Rhine, for the reader at least, as Marcus Didius Falco is ordered by Emperor Vespasian to deliver the Iron Hand of Mars to the 14th Gemina, one of the legions controlling the border between Roman Gaul and Free Germany. And to do a spot of investigating on the side with the aim of reaching a peace settlement with the Celtic tribes of Free Germany. Not much to do there then.
Experiences en route to to frontier, and beyond it, prove to be rather less enjoyable for those involved – Falco, Helena’s beloved younger brother Justinus, and a crew of novice legionaries under the command of grizzled Centurion Helvetius. And a flamboyantly attired hairdresser to Emperors, keen to do a spot of sight seeing abroad…….
Roman private eye, Marcus Didius Falco, tangles with the nouveau riche of the Pincian Hill, and his ensuing investigation brings him into the nefarious realms of rogue developer landlords and a professional bride trailing three deceased husbands in her wake.
Very kindly purchased for me by the Barbican Library team, “to ensure we have the whole series.”
No 2 in the series, and (eventually) Falco heads off to the Bay of Naples for a holiday with best friend Petronius and family, plus his own nephew, Larius. Oh, and an ulterior motive – the ongoing search for the scheming senators who fled Rome after their plot against Emperor Vespasian failed….