Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #91: Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis
Ancient Roman gumshoe Marcus Didius Falco is Lindsey Davis’ greatest creation, a brash and irreverent plebian who has managed to win the heart of a senator’s daughter while trying to earn a living by simultaneously cleaning up political messes for Emperor Vespasian and pursuing private investigations of embezzlement, theft, and murder for the lowest to the highest of Roman society. He is a hard-drinking, hard-playing macho with a soft heart for his lady-love Helena and with a strong sense of fair play for the down-trodden. His adventures take place against the backdrop of a highly-detailed imperial Rome in 71 AD, and we get to breathe the scents, try the recipes, trudge past the monuments, and adorn ourselves with togas and tunics as we follow Falco on his merry—and sometimes not so merry—way.
In this early novel in the series, Falco is at the early stages of his love affair with Helena, and is trying to convince the senator’s strong-willed daughter into moving out of her father’s mansion and into his impoverished flat with him, which collapses into a deadly heap right after she agrees. Falco’s mother has just bailed him out of jail, where his rival Anacrites, the Emperor’s chief spy, has dumped him on trumped-up charges. No sooner is he out than Falco is hired by a trio of former slaves turned millionaires to check out a suspected “black widow” who has managed to ensnare one of their number. Money-grubbing real estate speculators, sleezy landlords, brutish thugs, flirtatious poisoners, snake charmers, even a mysterious fortune-teller, are just a few of the colorful characters that Falco encounters on his way to ferreting out the truth and getting himself beaten to within an inch of his life before ultimately solving the crime.
I don’t know whether it is the brilliant cast of characters that people Davis’ Falco novels, the meticulous descriptions of imperial Rome, the complex mysteries, or Falco’s witty commentary on the social inequities around him which have captured my loyalty to this series, but Venus in Copper doesn’t fail to entertain.