This book is the first in Lindsey Davis’ mystery series featuring Marcus Didius Falco and set in ancient Rome. Falco is from the lower class, he is an underpaid and struggling informer (investigator/ detective). Throughout the book he continues to question his ability to solve the case and his worthiness to receive a decent income.
The story is set in AD 70. The previous year saw four different emperors and Vespasian has just come to the throne. When Falco saves a young girl, Sosia Camilla, who is being chased by some rogues, he becomes involved in an investigation into the illegal trading of lead blocks (known as silver pigs).
Sosia is murdered and Falco decides he will stop at nothing to find her murderer.
The investigation takes Falco to Britannia. Here he works undercover as a slave in the silver mines to trace the silver pigs from their source, and as a slave he emerges nearly starved and almost beaten to death. In Britannia he also meets Sosia’s cousin, Helena Justina, who plays a big part through the rest of the story.
On his return to Rome, Falco continues to follow the clues and discovers the names of those involved, right up to some of the highest ranks in the land.
There is a dramatic conclusion as Falco finally discovers the last name to add to his list of conspirators and almost gets himself, and Helena Justina, killed in the process.
I found the atmosphere of ancient Rome and Britain under Roman rule a lot to take in. There was a huge range of settings from the decadent palaces of the emperors, where they are served by a multitude of slaves, through to the slums of Rome where it is barely safe to travel in broad daylight and certainly not at night. And also, cold dismal Britain! I also found some of the Roman names a bit difficult to keep track of and I was confusing characters with each other until well into the book.
I really enjoyed the characters of Falco, Helena Justina, Petronius Longus, and Falco’s mother. I’m looking forward to seeing these characters develop further in later books in the series.
Book Published 1989