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on 19 January 2016
This entry in Lindsey Davis' Falco series sees the main protagonist once again far from Rome in the borders of the empire and beyond. Sent by his old sparring partner Anacrites to do a bit of spying on the Nabataeans (at least, that is what he is told) he also picks up a side case to search for a missing water organist by another old acquaintance. He is joined on the journey by Helena, and together they come across a murder or two, a travelling theatre company, a reticent priest, and a snake (or two).
Falco's personality is now well established, and Helena has become more rounded as well. Their relationship is an interesting part of this tale, as here they are 'alone together' (so to speak) and reliant on one another in a way they would not be in Rome. This story seemed a bit weak to begin with, but it builds slowly, and becomes quite gripping. The self-contained group in which the couple find themselves for most of the book allow the author to play with the dynamics of such a company, allowing the loves, lies, stories and petty jealousies to slowly appear. This is all written really well, with a pace and style that are perfect for me. I'm looking forward to reading the next volume.
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on 21 February 2001
I find it difficult to understand why other reviewers were disappointed by this book. To my mind, it is one of Lindsey's best (and yes, I have read them all). Apart from anything else, it has the most memorable plot - one of comparatively few genuine whodunnits in the Falco series - and the locations are spot on. Visit places like Petra and Palmyra today, and you can just picture Falco going about his investigation. Difficult to fault!
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on 24 February 1999
The Falco series are characterised by smooth plotting, finely drawn characters and genuine wit. This particular novel is probably the weakest of the series. The murderer's motive is weak, the detection process laboured and the denouement contrived. The book is saved by the characters of Falco and Helena and Falco's pungent wit which somehow avoids anachronisms which one finds in similar attempts at 'historic' humour. I particularly enjoyed the encounter with the christians. Well worth a read but not one of her best.
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This is the sixth in a series of excellent detective stories set in Vespasian's Roman Empire and featuring the informer Marcus Didius Falco. Informers in ancient Rome were something between a private detective and a government spy.

Falco is sent on a mission to the middle east on behalf of the Imperian Roman authorities, and his girlfriend Helena Justina insists on coming along. During the mission they attach themselves to a travelling troupe of actors who are performing a tour of the ten main cities in an area which roughly corresponds to modern day Syria. And when one of the members of the acting troupe is murdered, Falco and Helena have another mystery to solve ...

There are very differing opinions among fans of Lindsey Davis about which of her books is best. I can only say that I thought all of these books deserved either four stars or five stars, and this is one of the books I gave five stars, because it almost made me feel as if I had actually visited the middle east in 72 AD.

I initially tried this series because I had enjoyed the "Cadfael" mediaeval detective stories by Ellis Peters. Where Cadfael is excellent, Falco is brilliant. Ellis Peters herself (or to use her real name, Edith Pargeter) said of the early books of the series, 'Lindsey Davis continues her exploration of Vespasian's Rome and Marcus Didius Falco's Italy with the same wit and gusto that made "The Silver Pigs" such a dazzling debut and her rueful, self-deprecating hero so irresistibly likeable.'

Funny, exciting, and based on a painstaking effort to re-create the world of the early Roman empire between 70 and 76 AD.

If you have met and enjoyed either the Cadfael or Thraxas series, this is even better.

It isn't absolutely essential to read these stories in sequence, as the mysteries Falco is trying to solve are all self-contained stories and each book can stand on its own. Having said that, there is some ongoing development of characters and relationships and I think reading them in the right order does improve the experience.

The full Falco series, in chronological order, consists at the moment of:

The Silver Pigs
Shadows in Bronze
Venus in Copper
The Iron Hand of Mars
Poseidon's Gold
Last Act in Palmyra
Time to Depart
A Dying Light in Corduba
Three Hands in the Fountain
Two for the Lions
One Virgin Too Many
Ode to a Banker
A Body in the Bath house
The Jupiter Myth
The Accusers
Scandal taks a Holiday
See Delphi and Die

I have can warmly recommend all of these.
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Falco has been asked by Thalia to try and find one of her employees who has disappeared. Fortunately he can combine the search with a commission from the Emperor Vespasian so he decides to combine business with pleasure and take Helena with him. After finding a dead body at the top of a hill at a shrine, Falco and Helena have to move on hurriedly and a priest, Musa, goes with them. They join forces with a travelling theatre group and Falco acquires the job of tracking down the murderer who was one of the group.

I am enjoying reading this interesting series. I love the wry humour of the writing and the characters of Falco and Helena. In fact all the characters in the books are well drawn and first century life is vividly and evocatively described. I find the historical detail fascinating and I can almost believe I am there with the characters when I'm reading.

If you like your mysteries set in an historical background then there are few authors who write as well as Lindsey Davis in my opinion. This book is the number six in the series of twenty which started with `The Silver Pigs' they can be read in any order but it is preferable to read them in the order in which they were published in order to track the development of the series characters.
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on 30 December 2014
Another beautifully written story in the life of the Roman detective Marcus Didius Falco. He is on an assignment to find a missing organist (!) in Syria, on the eastern edge of the empire, accompanied by the resourceful Helena Justina. In Petra of Nabatea, they stumble on a murder, and he is expelled from the country, when he meets up with a travelling theatre company. They play in the towns of the Decapolis, then into Syria for the final performance, which is quite something.

In the course of the narrative, it turns out that Falco has quite a literary/dramatic talent, and in fact wrote a first version of what later became Hamlet! The only problem was that he thought it a comedy, so perhaps that's why it had only one performance, but what a performance indeed!

I recommend this book for its descriptions of Roman life, and subtle humour, and not least the enduring love between the two leading characters.
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on 17 January 2016
The person I bought it for was delighted, the packaging kept the book safe and sound but made it too big to fit through a standard sized post box. Lucky I work close to home, when the nice delivery dude called I was able to call in a favour and run back to collect it.
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on 21 March 2016
Descriptive and evocative of conditions in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Marcus Didius Falco is an engaging narrator and Helena Justina is a more than able counterpart and complement to the storylines.
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on 26 October 2015
Lovely to read the development of the relationship between Marcus Didius and Helena - and more enjoyable to read this set outside Rome in Petra, etc. than the earlier one set in Germany(?). I'd got a little tired of this couple's warring and bickering but this was kept to the minimum in this story.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2008
This was my first Falco book - and it hooked me on Lindsey Davis. I think it's suggestive that at the time I was confined to hospital and yet had to be cautioned against laughing so loudly.
The absurdity is that Falco, an aspiring amateur poet as well as informer, has as little acting talent as I have, but must be disguised as one on a special mission to the Middle East of the Roman period. His ham acting persists, area to area, among a genuine acting troupe, among people after people, inluding disapproving early Christians. These receive a summary response.
The mission succeeds - in a sense, for Falco must as usual struggle to force his expenses out of a notoriously penny-pinching government. This takes almost as much effort as the mission itself. And all the time, hovering somewhere in background or foreground, is the indispensable Helena Justina, partner to Falco. This, I believe, would have me doubled up with laughter on my (or even someone else's) death bed - a fine way to go for all.
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