I very nearly didn’t bother with The Iron Hand of Mars, the fourth book in Lindsey Davis’s series about Marcus Didius Falco. I started reading it when I only had a short chunk of time, and in that time Marcus was more of an ass than usual, and the stage was set for a lot of Germanic political manuvering. Grr and yawn, respectively. But the book has to go back to the library, so I gave it a shot today.
I think I’ve identified why I’m far less interested in the political volumes of this series. First, they feel like a tone-content mismatch; Falco’s a first-person private eye, and I think he fits better in local investigations, or at least things that start out as local investigations, than in semi-diplomatic problem-solving missions for the Emperor. Second, they tend to take Falco on journeys all over the Empire, usually with great woodges of history as backstory, which all has a faint but discernable whiff of “I’ve suffered for my research and now you must too.” Which is odd, because in another series the trips would be an interesting bonus; I think it goes back to trouble believing that Vespasian would tap Falco for these kinds of errands.
Particularly this errand: the political stuff of the first two books, Falco got drawn into inadvertently and then stayed on to limit the number of people who knew about it. But I have a hard time believing that Vespasian would think Falco the best person to tactfully check up on the management of a legion that hates his former legion, let alone deal with a missing legate, a local prophetess, and a rebel leader. (Yes, I know that it is suggested that there are other considerations behind Vespasian’s choice, but I don’t think he’d let that influence him into an unsuitable decision.)
Anyway, having offended Helena Justina, Falco agrees to take this ridiculous mission because he hopes he might find her in Germany visiting her younger brother (a nice boy). The plot’s not so much a mystery as a road trip; he wanders around looking for various people, stuff happens, there is insufficient Helena Justina, and Kate skims a lot.
I’m not sure there’s anything objectively wrong with this book; it’s just not to my taste.