In Shadows in Bronze, the second book of the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis, Marcus goes undercover to find out more about the conspirators whom he thwarted in the previous novel. As they explore the towns of the Italian countryside, Marcus and his nephew Larius become door-to-door salesmen, offering lead pipes at a cheap deal and tax free.
Every householder knows the hazard; a man and a boy at the door selling something you don’t want. Unless you feel strong, these whey-faced inadequates land you with anything from fake horoscopes or wobbly iron saucepans to a second-hand chariot with mock-silver wheel finials and a very small Medusa stencilled on the side, which you subsequently discover used to be painted crimson and had to have its bodywork remodelled after being battered to all Hades in a crash…
The plot to overthrow Vespasian using silver from his own mines has ended, but some of the pardoned conspirators are a little too interested in the annual shipment of corn to Rome’s granaries. To complicate matters further, a sinister, green-cloaked man named Barnabas seems to have a vendetta against the surviving conspirators, and Marcus must risk his own neck to put a stop to Barnabas’ killing spree.
Marcus continues his relationship with Helena Justina despite the obstacles posed by their disparate social standings and their determination to willfully misunderstand each other. His friend Petronius and nephew Larius add interesting subplots to the story as Petronius tries to keep his shrewish wife happy and Larius learns about the facts of life from his uncle.
The opening quote illustrates many of the things I’m loving about these books: the cheeky narrative tone, the wide range of historical detail, the lovely way it parallels with life in modern day America. Lindsey Davis has quite a gift for words. I found myself stopping two or three times to read especially humorous descriptive passages aloud to my husband:
The town of Herculaneum was very small, very sleepy, and if any interesting women lived there, they were hidden behind locked doors…. Unlike Pompeii, where we had to bawl to make ourselves heard, in Herculaneum you could stand in the Forum at the top of the town and still hear the sea gulls at the port. If a child cried in Herculaneum its nursemaid dashed to gag it before it was sued for a breach of the peace. At Herculaneum the gladiators in the amphitheatre probably said ‘I beg your pardon!’ each time their swords did anything so impolite as landing a nick. Frankly, Herculaneum made me want to jump on a public fountain and shout a very rude word.
One of the things that makes Lindsy Davis’ descriptions so colorful are the memorable similes. When describing a small boat that he has stolen, Marcus says: “It bobbed in the wavelets like an intoxicated fruitfly dancing at a rotten peach.”
It’s official. I’m a Marcus Didius Falco fan. It’s going to be hard to make myself read anything else until I’m done with the whole series.