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Scandal Takes a Holiday: A Marcus Didius Falco Mystery Novel    by Lindsey Davis order for
Scandal Takes a Holiday
by Lindsey Davis
Order:  USA  Can
Mysterious Press, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Marcus Didius Falco is on the investigative trail again in A.D. 76 - this time he's on a seaside escapade in search of the missing Infamia, a gossip columnist for 'the official mouthpiece of the government', the Daily Gazette. The search takes Falco to Ostia, the vibrant Roman port built by Emperor Claudius at the mouth of the Tiber, 'hub of the widest trade market ever known.' It's become a place 'where Rome gorged itself on produce.'

Naturally, Marcus finds plenty that's rotten on and around the wharves, and it's not all fish. There's a builders' guild with a monopoly on firefighting and a suspicious fire in which Infamia's arthritic aunt perished; pirates ('from Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia. The three mobsters of the eastern seas') with rich mansions; vigiles and naval officers on undisclosed missions; a kidnapping racket long in operation; and an appearance by Falco's absentee uncle Fulvius, 'the one nobody talks about'.

As usual, plenty of Falco's family and friends pop up to confuse the action - from his strong-minded, snarling sister Maia and best friend Petronius, to his self-satisfied sister Junia and her pompous husband, the penultimate bureaucrat, Gaius Baebius. Both sets of parents show up (Falco's separately and Helena's together) and Helena helps matters along by speed-reading for clues. As the action heats up, Falco cools off - he barely escapes drowning, aided surprisingly by his shady dad.

As usual, Lindsey Davis sets readers' imaginations afire with Falco's insider view of daily life in ancient Italy - including a funeral that makes even the corpse stand up and take notice. I always enjoy the author's witty asides, as in a discussion of the risks of bathhouse theft (Falco's unsalubrious solution involves his dog Nux). And Helena's brother Aelianus sets sail for Greece in Scandal Takes a Holiday - can we hope for an Athenian adventure in the offing?

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