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Lindsey Davis

Shadows in Bronze
Crown, 1990
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British authoress Lindsey Davis has undertaken a large project in Shadows in Bronze, the second in a mystery series set in ancient Rome and featuring Marcus Didius Falco. Using a broad canvas, she has attempted to sketch the effort of Vespasian to stabilize his position as Emperor after several others had failed to establish a viable government subsequent to the demise of Nero. The chaos caused by contending Senators and the resultant cynicism are made clear through the voice of Didius, who became an agent of the Emperor in Silver Pigs, the first title in the series. Unfortunately, the conspiracy which was unearthed in that title is not quite dead, and Didius is again called back into service to solve the mystery of the surviving conspirators. This notwithstanding his republican rather than imperial politics. The search takes him from Rome to the heel of the Italian boot and to Campagnia where it is thought that several Senators who were absenting themselves from Rome could shed light on the problem. To establish a cover for his activities Falco makes the trip with Petronius Longus, his best friend and wine connoisseur, Petro's wife and three daughters. Marcus also was accompanied by his nephew, Larius, at the insistence of the latter's husbandless mother who felt that Marcus could better acquaint the teenager with the facts of life. The entourage was intended to establish the group as vacationers to Neopolis and Capreae. While not entirely successful as a kind of C.I.A. operation it does give the author the opportunity to develop at greater depth some of the characters who appeared in the first title in the series and introduces Larius who gives promise of appearing in future titles. In addition to dealing with Roman politics and the conspiracy, Ms. Davis has continued the thread of the love story of Falco and Helena Justina--a relationship which appears doomed by virtue of Falco's stubbornness and his feelings of inferiority arising from his lack of social status and wealth. (Not, of course, because of any feeling of inadequacy as to his maleness.) It is fair to conclude that all else in Shadows in Bronze, including the mystery, is secondary to the vicissitudes in the relationship. While revealing that the remaining conspirator was neatly dispatched with poetic justice does not spoil the story, it would remove the sense of suspense to reveal the final status of l'affaire Helena--at least in this title. Some readers may be critical of the relatively slow pace of the solution, which is interspersed with descriptions of geography, statues, manners and customs and with the interplay of the love story to which the mystery is clearly subservient. For others these facets provide not only a chage of pace but also an entertaining bonus. This reviewer is in the latter category. A word of caution, however: Silver Pigs, the initial title in the series, should be read first. Reviewed by Vincent C. DeMaio

- Vincent C. DeMaio , 11/25/2005

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