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Lindsey Davis

Two for the Lions
Random House, 1998
Barnes & Noble


Falco is forced again to work with Anacrites, not his favorite workmate in conjunction with the great census of 73 AD as well as missing relatives, gladiators, lions and a trip to Africa. Tenth in the series. Copyright (C) 1994-1998 by Richard M. Heli

- Richard M. Heli , 11/25/2005

The well-travelled M. Didius Falco takes up his tenth assignment as an informer: one per novel. Falco operates out of his dingy apartment in Rome, and much of every story is set in the City. He has encountered all levels of society, from the imperial palaces and the mansions of wealthy senators to thevery ordinary folks and a range of low-lifes in and around his Aventine Hill neighborhood. He has dined with wealthy but sleazy olive growers and oil shippers, hung around with the Vigiles as they watch for fires and try to solve crimes, penetrated the murky world of art theft and forgery, patrolled the warehouses along the Tiber, patronized public baths and gyms, and entered the brothels near the Circus Maximus. Outside Rome he has spent time on relatives' farms in Latium, conducted business at the port of Ostia, and inspected the line of aqueducts in the hills above Tivoli. Business has taken Falco to many provinces of the Empire and beyond in a sleuthing career that began with a trip to Britain and its mines in 70 (SilverPigs), and has included Gaul and the legionary camps and frontier towns along the Rhine (Iron Hand of Mars), the caravan cities of of the East (Last Act in Palmyra), and the olive plantations and oil presses of southern Spain (A Dying Light in Corduba). Two for the Lions ends in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in the spring of 74, several months after beginning in Rome. The plot involves large-scale businessmen, a theme familiar from other stories, this time those who supply gladiators and animals for the arena: the Colosseum is nearing completion and the inaugural events are only a few years away. Several operators maneuver to obtain huge government contracts to supply two- and four-legged beasts, trained and otherwise, for the occasion. Along the way we learn something of how animals were captured and housed in Rome and we search for silphium, the Viagra of the ancient world. Falco has experienced as much of the Roman world as, some eight decades later in Apuleius' Golden Ass, poor Lucius was to do when changed into an ass by the black magic of a Thessalian witch. Although Apuleius' novel and Davis' storiesare immensely informative about conditions in the Roman world as well as fun reading, and although Falco's travels bear a certain similarity to Lucius' odyssey, Falco is no Lucius. The latter ultimately gains salvation through the grace of Isis and is metamorphosed from a braying quadruped back to human form. Falco seeks no redemption beyond a happy home life, and his quest is to gain equestrian rank. Davis peppers her stories with excellent character sketches and descriptions of society and the occasional real person—sometimes the emperor Vespasian and his son and colleague Titus. The Course of Honour, though not about Falco, recreates the story of the freedwoman Antonia Caenis and Vespasian, a tie that was a marriage in all but name. In Two for the Lions the background is the censorship of Vespasian and Titus in which they reassessed taxation around the Empire to increase the revenues to a depleted treasury. Falco's girlfriend-become-wife Helena Justinaasks Caenis to persuade Vespasian to appoint Falco to seek out those who have under-declared their tax liabilities. The stories of Caenis and Vespasian and Helena and Falco, incidental to the main plot, tell us much about the Roman attitude toward marriage. Falco's present inquiries take him into the high stakes of the gladiator and animal trade, tax-snooping turns into investigation of murder, and the trail takes him to the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Sextus Julius Frontinus is a secondary character in Three Hands in the Fountain; late in a highly distinguished career (consul in 73, 98, and 100) he was commissioner of the water supply and wrote a surviving account of the aqueducts. Corresponding to him in a fine touch of reality in Two for the Lions is the envoy to Tripolitania, C. Rutilius Gallicus. After his first consulship in 71 or 72 he was Vespasian's special legate to Africa in 73—74, sent to take the provincial census. He resurveyed both the border between Lepcis Magna and Oea, alluded to in the novel, and the original boundary of Rome's African province (the fossa regia, 146 BC); surviving markers allow historians to trace his work. He received a second consulship, in 85. Since both men went on to hold important army commands (Frontinus in Britain 73/4—77/8, Gallus in Lower Germany 76—77) and the highest position in the senatorial career, the proconsulship of Asia (Gallus in 82/3—83/4, succeeded by Frontinus ca. 85), perhaps we can expect to encounter them in Falco's later adventures. Two for the Lions has a number of passing references to, and characters carried over from, earlier stories. None of them is essential, but fans will enjoy the allusions. Falco's buddy Petronius Longus is absent. Perhaps in compensation, his longtime nemesis the chief spy Anacrites is now ostensibly his partner. Severely wounded and being nursed back to health by Falco's indomitable mother ("Ma") when we last saw him, Anacrites once again proves difficult to kill. On the other hand, Falco's ne'er-do-well brother-in-law Famia tags along on the travels to buy horses for the racing stables in Rome. His prejudice against all things Punic brings him to a bad end at Lepcis—but it allows one lion a measure of revenge for what humans do to his leonine fellows. Thomas H. Watkins, Department of History: Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL 61455

- Thomas H. Watkins, 11/25/2005

Marcus Didius Falco is back, with a new partner. The Roman sleuth is now, albeit reluctantly, teamed up with his old enemy Anacrites, the Chief Spy. He is now also in more lucrative employment than usual, if no more respectable, working as auditor for the Imperial Census. Falco and partner's current assignment should be straightforward enough, investigating the accounts of suppliers of gladiators and wild beasts to the arena, but is anything in Falco's life ever that? From the murders of a lion and a gladiator in Rome to the deserts of North Africa in pursuit of runaway lovers, Falco follows his assorted leads with his usual cynical humour. With the long-suffering Helena Justina in tow, the diverse threads all finally come together for a finale on the blood-stained sand of the arena. Although I did enjoy reading Two For The Lions, I also found it vaguely disappointing. It contains all the usual elements of a Falco novel, humour, a twisting plot and as usual an excellent feel for the period. I find it impossible to fault Lindsey Davis' background research and her excellent blending of a 1920s-style private eye into first-century Imperial Rome. However for me the humour lacked something of the sparkle of her previous books and the story seemed to lose itself from time to time. That said there are still some very amusing moments. I do think Two For The Lions is a good book, just not quite as good as some of the author's earlier works. - Graham Harrison From The Historical Novel Review (December 1998), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Graham Harrison, 11/25/2005

In 73 AD Rome, though he prefers otherwise, private investigator Marcus Didius Falco accepts a government job with the census crowd. Marcus and his assigned partner, archenemy Anacrites, Rome’s chief spy, collect tax revenue. As Marcus vows he never again will join the inane bureaucracy, someone murders Rome’s chief executioner, Leonidas the Lion. He had lunched on all those convicted of a capital punishment offense. Unable to resist a juicy murder investigation, Falco begins to make inquiries. As he digs deeper, Falco finds no one seems to have a motive to stab the lion to death. As Falco follows leads across the Mediterranean, an unknown assailant watches his every move in case he gets close to uncovering the truth. TWO FOR THE LIONS is the latest historical mystery starring the Don Rickles of Ancient Rome, Falco. As in the previous novels in this award winning series, the historical details make the city-state seem vividly alive. The characters feel genuine and add to the feeling that the reader has traveled back in time. Though Falco’s humorous but ugly soliloquies on just about everyone occasionally slows down the intriguing story line, sub-genre fans will fully relish this winning tale. -Harriet Klausner 1/00

- Harriet Klausner, 1/1/2000

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