Sunday, April 5, 2015

D is for Detective


Okay, I'm lying. D isn't just for Detective. It's for Davis, Lindsey Davis and her novel The Iron Hand of Mars. This is the next volume in the Ancient Rome Detective series starting Marcus Didius Falco so it could be D for Didius!

Besides, I'm already behind so it's okay if I cheat in this A to Z April Blog Challenge right?

In short, Lindsey continues to put Falco through the paces.

This includes emotional as well as physical.

Stress from financial situations as well as the desire to do what's right in a world that often isn't. What does he say? "No point risking my neck unless it's for a world where chldren can believe magicians will  always mend their broken toys.'

Lindsey does this with an ability to take the reader to these ancient lands, so that we can smell the food cooking and look around in a sense of awe and wonder at a different era.

She brings the reader in through familiar use of first person as we see the world through Falco's eyes.

In terms of detective, she often pairs Falco with others so that Falco has someone to bounce his ideas off of. In some instances, Falco isn't too pleased with those they've set him with. For example, Falco loves Helena Justina.

Helena is more than a match for Falco. She's smart and forward, quite unlike many women in her era. She's also the daughter of a Senator, far above Falco's station.

Helena Justina is being pursued by Titus Caesar.

Falco likes to think of himself as a man of the world, so that when Titus Caesar's 'barbar' is assigned to go with him up north into Germania Libera, Falco thinks that it's to make short work of him while he does his own investigations.

Along the way Lindsey brings a lot of tricks that can be used for almost any situation.

For example, towards the end, there is a building of suspense.

Falco is exploring the wild regions looking for numerous things.

Things he isn't looking for? An abandoned Roman fort, long ago fallen and empty with no signs of life or habitation. When adding something like this to say, a role playing game, you have a few options.

If it's to showcase a sense of fallen civilization or how quickly things can happen, a rough description of what happened and what's left should be all that you need. If you're using it as a set piece however, you should have it fully mapped and noted out what's in there. If you map it out and there's nothing there, you're wasting everyone's time.

Thing he isn't looking for? A druid circle complete with freshly slaughtered animals and skulls nailed to trees.

Thing he isn't looking for? An opposing military force that captures him.

By building the suspense, Lindsey is able to augment the sense of dread and the tingle of anticipation. This is a technique used in the original Alien movie where we're not seeing the monster on screen every second so that when it does appear, it's appearance means something.

Another nice thing, is that Falco isn't perfect and he often thinks something is happening when it's not. For example, his 'assassin' barber is merely a barber, but one who does save Falco's life with one of his razor's so the man is capable of killing.

In addition to exploration, part of Falco's detective work involves speaking with numerous people. Often these individuals are not happy to speak with Falco for whatever reason.

He sometimes compensates this by having someone else talk to the same person. In a society where status has real meaning and real power, while someone is willing to dismiss Falco, they are not quite so willing to do the same thing with Helena, a Senator's daughter. Even in the far out lands outside civilization, such a person has their own amount of regal bearing and pose.

Lastly, there is also the ability to use random encounters to one's advantage. During the final tangle, Falco and his allies are outnumbered and surprised, one of them already taken down by a barbed spear.

Into that mess comes a maddened wild bull which gores the opposing captain allowing Falco's group to seize the initiative, even as the bull itself then turns on Falco, which requires the nimble 'detective' to engage in some fancy footwork to prevent himself from being gored.

Lindsey Davis is more than familiar with these characters and this setting and reading this book is like visiting an old friend.

For those who want to see how a detective story can be one that involves exploration of the width and breadth of a massive empire like Roman, The Iron hand of Mars is a worthy read.