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.
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.