The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

(Mild Spoilers)

Wanted: One Private Eye to traipse around parts of the Roman Empire, solving local problems while taking on the Emperor’s worst missions. Duties involve pointing out interesting historical and local details for readers, acting tough while being a soft touch, general wittiness, and having a ‘lively’ romance with the glamourous and competent leading lady.

If you’d post that ad, then Lindsey Davis’ Falco series will be right up your street, and in book four The Iron Hand of Mars you can see an author getting comfortable and polished with her set-up.

Which is an odd thing to say when in many ways this is my least favourite of the bunch so far. That boils down to it having the least interesting mystery both in terms of who did it – it really means nothing to Falco other than the paycheque – and how it’s investigated.

However, the banter is excellent and the world is alive with interesting characters. The individual scenes are wonderfully fun to read and the plot is clever in terms of getting Falco from disaster to disaster. Perhaps in many ways, the relative lack of emphasis put on the mystery plot is the sound of Davis realising the main draw for many readers is Falco straddling the line between clown and hero, and decided to focus on that first and foremost. The other reason is that Germany after the War of the Four Emperors sounds a very interesting place.

In any case, this is a very enjoyable book. The best thing she’s ever done? No. But for anyone thinking of starting this series, know that even the so-so books are still really rather good.

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