When Germanic troops in the service of the Empire begin to rebel, and a Roman general disappears, Emperor Vespasian turns to the one man he can trust: Marcus Didius Falco, a private informer whose rates are low enough that even the stingy Vespasian is willing to pay them.
To Falco, an undercover tour of Germania is an assignment from Hades. On a journey that only a stoic could survive, Falco meets with disarray, torture, and murder. His one hope: in the northern forest lives a powerful Druid priestess who perhaps can be persuaded to cease her anti-Rome activities and work for peace. Which Falco is eagerly hoping for as, back in Rome, the Titus Caesar is busy trying to make time with Helena Justina, a senator's daughter and Falco's girlfriend.
Lindsey Davis' historical mystery Iron Hand of Mars is a "Seamless blending of humor, history and adventure" (Publishers Weekly).
About the Author
Lindsey Davis was born and raised in Birmingham, England. After taking an English degree at Oxford and working for the civil service for thirteen years, she "ran away to be a writer." Her internationally bestselling novels featuring ancient Roman detective Marcus Didius Falco include Venus in Copper, Nemesis and Alexandria. She is also the author of Rebels and Traitors, set during the English Civil War. Davis is the recipient of the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, the highest accolade for crime writers, as well as the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award and the Authors' Club Best First Novel award.
Read an Excerpt
“One thing is definite,” I told Helena Justina; “I am not going to Germany!”
Immediately I could see her planning what to pack for the trip.
* * *
We were in bed at my apartment, high up on the Aventine. A real sixth-floor bughole—only most bugs grew tired of walking upstairs before they ever got this far. I passed them sometimes, flaked out on halfway landings, with droopy antennae and tired little feet …
It was a place you could only laugh about, or the squalor would break your heart. Even the bed was rocky. And that was after I had pieced in a new leg and tightened the mattress webs.
I was trying out a new way of making love to Helena, which I had devised in the interests of not letting our relationship go stale. I had known her a year, let her seduce me after six months of thinking about it, and had finally managed to persuade her to live with me about two weeks ago. According to my previous experience of women, I must be right on target to be told I drank too much and slept too much, and that her mother needed her urgently back at home.
My athletic efforts at holding her interest had not gone unnoticed. “Didius Falco … wherever did you … learn this trick?”
“Invented it myself…”
Helena was a senator’s daughter. Expecting her to put up with my filthy lifestyle for more than a fortnight had to be pushing my luck. Only a fool would view her fling with me as anything more than a bit of local excitement before she married some pot-bellied pullet in patrician stripes who could offer her emerald pendants and a summer villa at Surrentum.
As for me, I worshipped her. But then I was the fool who kept hoping the fling could be made to last.
“You’re not enjoying yourself.” As a private informer, my powers of deduction were just about adequate.
“I don’t think…” Helena gasped, “this is going to work!”
“Why not?” I could see several reasons. I had cramp in my left calf, a sharp pain under one kidney, and my enthusiasm was flagging like a slave kept indoors on a festival holiday.
“One of us,” suggested Helena, “is bound to laugh.”
“It looked all right as a rough sketch on the back of an old rooftile.”
“Like pickling eggs. The recipe seems easy, but the results are disappointing…”
I replied that we were not in the kitchen, so Helena asked demurely whether I thought it would help if we were. Since my Aventine doss lacked that amenity altogether, I treated her question as rhetorical.
We both laughed, if it’s of interest.
Then I unwound us, and made love to Helena the way both of us liked best.
* * *
“Anyway, Marcus, how do you know the Emperor wants to send you to Germany?”
“Nasty rumour flitting round the Palatine.”
We were still in bed. After my last case had staggered to what passed for its conclusion, I had promised myself a week of domestic relaxation—due to a dearth of new commissions, there were plenty of gaps in the schedule of my working life. In fact, I had no cases at all. I could stay in bed all day if I wanted to. Most days I did.
“So…” Helena was a persistent type. “… You have been making enquiries then?”
“Enough to know some other mug can take on the Emperor’s mission.”
Since I did sometimes undertake shady activity for Vespasian, I had been up to the Palace to investigate my chances of earning a corrupt denarius from him. Before presenting myself in the throne room, I had taken the precaution of sniffing round the back corridors first. A wise move: a well-timed exchange with an old crony called Momus had sent me scurrying home.
“Much work on, Momus?” I had asked.
“Chicken-feed. I hear your name is down for the German trip?” was the reply (with a mocking laugh that told me it was something to dodge).
“What trip is that?”
“Just your sort of disaster,” Momus had grinned. “Something about investigating the Fourteenth Gemina…”
That was when I had pulled my cloak round my ears and scarpered—before anyone could inform me officially. I knew enough about the XIV Legion to put quite a lot of effort into avoiding closer contact, and without going into painful history, there was no reason why those swaggering braggarts should welcome a visit from me.
* * *
“Has the Emperor actually spoken to you?” insisted my beloved.
“Helena, I won’t let him. I’d hate to cause offence by turning down his wonderful offer…”
“Life would be much more straightforward if you just let him ask you, and then simply said no!”
I gave her a smirk that said women (even clever, well-educated daughters of senators) could never understand the subtleties of politics—to which she replied with a two-handed shove that sent me sprawling out of bed. “We need to eat, Marcus. Go and find some work!”
“What are you going to do?”
“Paint my face for a couple of hours, in case my lover calls.”
“Oh, right! I’ll go, and leave him a clear field…”
We were joking about the lover. Well, I hoped we were.
Copyright © 1992 by Lindsey Davis
Table of Contents
Part One: Refusing to go,
Part Two: Getting there,
Part Three: Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix,
Part Four: A trip down the Rhenus,
Part Five: Swamps and forests,
Part Six: Going home (perhaps),
Also Available by Lindsey Davis,
Number four in the series takes Falco north to Germania, to search for a missing army officer, and turns into a much wider mission. The atmosphere of Germania from a Roman point of view is powerfully recreated: Tacitus was never this much fun.
This is, by a clear distance, the best Falco novel yet. Falco is sent off to the wilds of northern Europe by emperor Vespasian and the story follows every bitter, cynical, self-deprecating step of his journey. Never has their been a more reluctant hero, all our man wants to do is settle down with the beautiful Helena Justina, even though he considers himself more and more unworthy of her affections. I really, really LOVE Falco and the supporting cast in this outing are superb as well; from the effimante barber travelling with Falco to the stiff-upper lipped centurion Helveticus. And we get to meet Helens's younger brother Camillus. The great thing about this series is each book retains the charm of the original at the same time as evolving the story and the characters and keeping it fresh. Just excellent.
I started reading this series years ago but had trouble finding this book. Did find it on the internet through Barnes and Noble. This book brought the series together for me. Love all of Lindsey Davis books. Started reading the Flavia Albia follow up series, Love ancient Rome murder mysteries.
I find the plot twists interesting,as well as the day to day detail of Roman life. I wish to find books 6 through 10 for nook. Is there any release dates? Or have I missed them?
I have not read this particular book but have read many in the series. This series is a real hoot. I just love them. Start at first to fully appreciate the characters and follow the life of our hero.