Marcus Didius Falco, ancient Roman private eye and informer for Emperor Vespasian, has returned to Rome after a mission to Germany (see The Iron Hand of Mars, the previous volume in Lindsey Davis' mystery series). He needs four hundred thousand sesterces to marry his girlfriend, senator's daughter Helena Justina, but he has no more work to do for the emperor, and only one client: his mother. When Falco finds his apartment has been ransacked, he takes refuge at his mother's house, only to find an unwelcome guest there. A soldier from Falco's dead brother Festus' legion tells Falco that Festus was involved in a shady business deal along with his friends from the army, and he demands money from Falco, as Festus' heir. Falco's mother requests him to clear his brother's name and restore his tarnished reputation. But the soldier is found murdered soon after he and Falco have a very public argument, and Falco becomes the prime suspect. In order to save himself from being thrown to the lions, Falco needs to discover who else had a motive to murder the soldier. His investigation throws him into the company of his estranged father, the auctioneer Geminus, who abandoned his family years ago, when Falco was a child. Together, they discover a scam involving a valuable Greek statue of Poseidon, which might or might not have been lost with the ship that Falco's brother hired to bring it to Rome. And two scheming art collectors attempt to collect a large debt from Geminus. As the plot thickens, Falco discovers that his brother's death might not have been as heroic as he had been led to believe.
Poseidon's Gold is the fifth book in Lindsey Davis' series, and contains much of her characteristic humor. Falco is his loveable, wisecracking self, and this volume introduces the reader to his extended family. Besides his father and mother, we meet his sisters who are, in varying degrees, estranged from him, except for the youngest, his favorite sister Maia. All of his brothers-in-law are unsatisfactory, in different ways. Falco's relationship with Helena Justina develops, as the two are now committed to each other, but we wonder where he is going to find the money he needs to gain promotion to the equestrian (middle) class, in order to be a suitable husband to a senator's daughter. As always with Davis' Falco series, this is an extremely enjoyable read, rich with details of life in ancient Rome. This one was even more of a delight because I read it on a visit to Rome, where I saw the ruins of the Roman Forum, where Falco often goes, and visited the Colosseum, which was being built at the time this book takes place.
Poseidon's Gold can be borrowed from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.
This photo of the Roman Forum, which I took on my recent visit to Rome, shows the Senate House, where Helena Justina's father spent his days.