Customer Reviews: The Iron Hand of Mars: A Marcus Didius Falco Mystery (Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries Book 4)
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on August 25, 2011
I came to the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries much later in the series (A Body in the Bath House) via Audible; the story was lively and the narrator distinct. I'm more familiar with the period of the late Roman Republic, but Davis' cheeky humor and fun characterizations have helped breathe life into the early Vespasian rule (68ish BCE) after the chaotic "year of the four emperors." Falco, a former soldier with the disgraced Second Augusta legion in Brittania, is a thirty year-old "informer" - roughly, private investigator - who in the first novel (The Silver Pigs) finds himself elevated from his usual sordid cases to one that brings him to the attention of the emperor and the senatorial Camillus family. A diamond in the rough however he may protest otherwise, that adventure launches him on a very different trajectory (several of which threads I spoiled for myself by starting with a later novel, but won't repeat here). Suffice to say, there is romance, thorough characterization, a solid mix of new adventures and people you will find as inescapable as Falco himself does, and a slow-building ambition. Davis appears to let very little time pass in the Falco time frame between novels (weeks, usually), so it's a slow but exciting ride-along in the characters' lives.

The Iron Hand of Mars follows the almost exclusively Rome-based predecessor, Venus in Copper, and returns to a road-trip adventure: this time, to the German frontier on Vespasian's errand to check on the legendary/notorious XIV legion and a German prophetess/rebel. The devil - and the delight - is in the details. As usual, Davis manages to work in children and and animals, both of which complicate Falco's life (and, occasionally, provide a surprise assist) as he strives to fulfill his mission.

At times Falco seems far too capable for his years and his station, a bit of Tarzan on the Tiber. Quick-witted, sharp tongued, ostensibly a ladies' man with a promiscuous past who gets tamed by the right woman (there are romance novel elements in this series, but of a more monogomous bent), able (and likely) to take a severe beating but otherwise apparently unkillable, smart enough to outwit senators and other unsavory types, a bit of a roguish loner who is also a devoted shepherd over his large rabble of a family, a Republican who nevertheless gets on better than he likes with the new (if rustic) royal all adds up to rich stew of Rome in all its flawed glory and the people who aren't that different from ourselves.
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on October 17, 2011
I love the Marcus Didius Falco books. Each book in the series shows how Falco develops as a person and an "informer" (the Roman term for a private investigator). Davis always writes with humor and gives history lessons without getting boring. I've never been disappointed with one of her books.
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on February 21, 2013
Falco is on the road again, travelling to another forsaken corner of the Empire and he is not very happy. He has girl problems at home, with Helena Justina miffed at him and Titus Caesar ogling Helena Justina. He is taking with him a barber whom he just can't get a fix on. Is the barber just a barber who wants to see the world or is he Titus's assassin, intent on killing Falco. Then there's the job - a trip to the German frontier which is a place no sane Roman would go; of course if you ask anyone, Falco isn't considered sane. Once there he has to confront a belligerent Legion, find a missing Legate and make peace with the Germans. Then on top of everything, he has to buy presents for his mother. No wonder Falco isn't happy.

The Iron Hand of Mars is the fourth book in the Falco series and it is a great read. The author has expanded on some of the backstory that she generated in her earlier books and has introduced new, important characters including Helena Justina's younger brother who is serving with the Legions on the frontier. That is one of the things that I like about the Falco books - the author will make a passing comment in one book and then when it is pertinant - she takes that idea and runs with it. It makes her stories feel alive.

So if your interested in this book, go for it. I certain that you will enjoy it.
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on January 5, 2015
Of all of the Falco novels, this one turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because it included more military adventures than other Falco books and swordplay.

This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, is tasked with attempting to derail a rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis and win over a mysterious prophetess. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major insurgency that arose during the reign of Vespasian. So, I did a little research.

Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69 AD. Although his name indicates he was Romanized by Augustus or one of the other Julian emperors, Civilis was twice imprisoned on a charge of rebellion, and narrowly escaped execution. During the tumult that followed the death of the emperor, Nero, Civilis took up arms under the pretense of siding with the Flavian emperor, Vespasian, and induced the inhabitants of his native country to rebel.

The Batavians, who had rendered valuable aid under the early emperors, had been well treated by subsequent emperors. They were exempt from tribute, but were obliged to supply a large number of men for the army. This conscription and the oppression of provincial governors, however, ultimately led to revolt. The Batavians were immediately joined by several neighboring German tribes, the most important of whom were the Frisii.

The Roman garrisons near the Rhine were driven out, and twenty-four ships captured. Two legions under Mummius Lupercus were defeated at Castra Vetera (near modern Xanten) and surrounded. Eight cohorts of Batavian veterans joined their countrymen, and the troops sent by Vespasian to the relief of Vetera threw in their lot with them as well.

The result of these accessions to the forces of Civilis was another uprising in Gaul. There, the Roman commander, Hordeonius Flaccus, was murdered by his troops and the remaining Roman forces were induced by two commanders of the Gallic auxiliaries--Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor--to revolt from Rome and join Civilis in a new independent kingdom of Gaul.
The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the Roman Empire. Veleda was a virginal holy woman of the Germanic tribe of the Bructeri.

"The ancient Germanic peoples discerned a divinity of prophecy in women and regarded prophetesses as true and living goddesses. In the latter half of the 1st century CE Veleda was regarded as a deity by most of the tribes in central Germany and enjoyed wide influence. She lived in a tower near the Lippe River, a tributary of the Rhine. The inhabitants of the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (now Cologne) accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, an unfederated tribe of Germany." - Wikipedia

Like the pythia of ancient Greece, envoys were not admitted to her presence; an interpreter conveyed their messages to her and reported her pronouncements. So, it is not known whether Veleda just prophesied the victory or actively incited the rebellion.

But, ultimately, tribal disputes ended any chance for success and Vespasian was able to put down the rebellion with the arrival of Quintus Potillius Cerealis and a strong force. Civilis, himself, was defeated at Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) and Vetera, and forced to withdraw to the island of Batavia. It is thought Civilis negotiated an agreement with Cerialis whereby his countrymen obtained certain advantages, and resumed amicable relations with Rome, although Civilis disappears from the historical record at this point, an ominous sign. However, Cerialis, like Julius Caesar, was known for his clementia, so the outcome may not have been dire after all.

As for Veleda, she was either captured by Rutillius Gallicus or "offered asylum" in 77 CE. She is thought to have negotiated the acceptance of a pro-Roman king by her tribe, the Bructeri, in 83 or 84 CE.

Note: The chief authority for the history of the insurrection is Tacitus, Histories, iv and v, and Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, vii. 4.

So, there is quite an opportunity for Falco to strut his stuff on a scale far greater than his usual sleuthing in back alleys. I think that is why I was drawn into this story more than some of his other adventures. Although I knew Falco had once served in the legions, he was far more physical in this tale than the others and his sardonic personality was kept relatively in check because of the heightened danger of his circumstances. I highly recommend it!
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on April 9, 2012
The Emperor Vespasian sends Falco into enemy territory to try and find out what has happened to a missing legionary and to talk to the barbarian priestess, Veleda. In the process Falco gets to know Helena Justina's brother Quintus Justinus and finds qualities in him of which he was previously unaware. Helena does not feature very much in this book though there are some amusing scenes with her and one of Falco's many nieces.

This is a dangerous mission for Falco and several times he really thinks his last hour has come but he manages to overcome obstacles with the help of his friends, a fair amount of luck and some inspired bluffing.

I particularly liked the barber Xanthus with his outlandish clothes and his skilfully hidden intelligence. I also liked Justinus and the way he deals with all the problems thrown at him.

Reading this series I almost feel as though I could go back to the first century AD and recognise the people and places. Life at that time is skilfully described as are the people and I love the humorous touches and the way the series characters are developing. The reader feels as though they are stepping into Falco's world and his life. I recommend this series to anyone who likes their historical novels with a touch of humour.
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on March 23, 2014
It's not horrid, but it's not good either. Bless her, she so wanted to reach into that historical bag of tricks and teach us all what really went on in those vast black forests, post Caesar. But there is not much Falco doing his thing, and all is a miserable sort of apologia that teaches less than it entertains. STILL, IT'S FALCO.
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on August 5, 2014
The estimable Helena surprises again. Marcus goes against great odds to follow the Emperor's orders. Wonder if he will actually get paid. Great read once, twice even thrice. The series is worth the investment.
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on April 7, 2013
I love lindsey davis' Falco series. This is number four of, I believe,seventeen. I own them all (a combination of paper and ebooks). So much to learn about First century Roman life and such wonderful fictional characters. You'll love them, I promise. Start with nymber one, The Silver Pigs. Or, even better, start with The Course of Honour, another novel by Davis that preceeds but is relevant to this series. Humor, romance, real characters and lots of reality. Both men and women will enjoy, I think (I'm a woman) .
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on March 20, 2015
The Iron Hand of Mars, the fourth in the Didius Falco series, did not disappoint; the smart-aleck Falco, lost in the woods of Germany with a bunch of new army recruits, was interesting and a mostly fun read. It also seems to be an example of the author wanting to cram as much of her extensive research as possible into the plot of a novel. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it a lot.

Now, if only the publisher would make all of the books of this series available electronically! The first four so novels are, and several of the later ones, but we're missing at least ten books. I really hate to do it, but I may have to go the real, brick-and-mortar library and check out the next book in (gasp!) dead-tree format. Ewwww....
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on March 26, 2015
As a great fan of Falco, this is another wonderfully quirky Roman mystery by Lindsey Davis. Falco is audacious, savvy and beguiling, and this novel shows him at his expected best! Davis presents an artful cast of characters, and an accurate portrayal of everyday life in the Empire. Highly recommend!
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