Two for the Lions: A Marcus Didius Falco Mystery
Nothing’s certain except death and taxes. Catching tax evaders for the Emperor Vespasian looks like a plum position for Marcus Didius Falco, who has teamed up with his old boss, Anacrites, the crotchety chief spy of Rome. Soon, however, Falco is bogged down in bureaucracy, stuck at his stylus, and longing for a good murder to investigate.
He gets one when someone kills Leonidas, the Empire’s official executioner. Feared by plebeians and citizens alike, Leonidas administered justice with a swift, sure blow. Then he ate the offender. Now this king of beasts lies stabbed to death in his cage.
Sniffing around for clues, Falco is soon led into the rowdy, decadent world of gladiators and bestiarii, fighters who specialize in contests against animals. Falco finds that it’s dark and dangerous in the tunnels under the arena-and even blacker in the desperate souls of those who must kill or be killed each time the games begin. Yet no one has a motive for slaughtering a lion after hours.
The unexpected slaying of the most glamorous gladiator in the city is another matter.
Now Falco has a high-profile crime to handle-and a domestic crisis brewing. His lover, the patrician Helena, reports that her disgraced brother needs help in Tripoli. Since Africa may well be the missing link between the murders of man and beast, Falco is quickly en route to those far shores-and heading toward a dangerous rendezvous with the raging lions that reside in the human heart, and one particular person who stalks his fellow man…
Marcus Didius Falco, Lindsey Davis’s clever, ambitious, not-so-holy Roman man about town, is on special assignment for the Emperor Vespacian. This time he’s tracking down tax fraud among the bestiarii, the slaughterers, and the lanistae, the suppliers of the gladiators and animals who provide the executions, spectacles, and entertainment for the Roman masses.
Hoisted by his own tarnished petard, Falco is unwillingly partnered with his ex-boss Anacrites, Rome’s chief spy, but that’s the least of his problems; his investigation has hardly begun when he finds himself in the tunnels under the arena with a lion named Leonidas—a man-killer who may or may not have been switched with a tamer beast for a private party meant to impress a wealthy Senator’s mistress.
While Leonidas presents no immediate threat to Falco—the king of the jungle is quite dead—the circumstances of the beast’s demise lead Falco to ponder a connection between a murderous feud that seems to have broken out in the ranks of the lanistae and the lucrative contracts soon to be let by the emperor for his magnificent new amphitheater. And when the most popular gladiator in Rome is killed—not in the arena, as might be expected, but while sleeping in his own bed—Falco and his patrician lover Helena take passage to Tripoli to track down the perpetrator. Along the way, they attempt to solve a domestic crisis involving Helena’s youngest brother, who seems to be right in the middle of the African connection between the murders of man and beast, as well as the feud between two powerful lanistae. And there’s still another reason to embark on a journey to the Dark Continent—the search for an extinct variety of wild garlic, which could make Falco a wealthy man and which ends with a hilarious denouement.
As usual, Davis serves up a generous helping of history, a raffish band of minor characters, a charming love story, and surprisingly relevant commentary on the nature of the bureaucracy, politics, and chicanery among the rich and famous. Two for the Lions promises—and delivers—a treat for the author’s many fans, and a terrific introduction to his new ones. —Jane Adams