Shadows In Bronze (Marcus Didius Falco #2), by Lindsey Davis
This book, quite interestingly, picks up immediately where the previous volume finished, with a murder mystery that follows from the previous political plot that Didius Falco had solved, reminding the reader that mysteries are not always tidy matters that can be resolved in a single volume but are sometimes matters with implications and ramifications that go beyond what is initially understood. Here we find the novel moving forward, showing Falco as he demonstrates himself to be able of handling matters requiring a higher social position than he had known in dealing with a variety of senators and their various hangers on, including the omnipresent Helena Justina, who happens to have been married (and then divorced) to one of the plotters that Falco had dealt with in the previous volume and whose health and feelings take on an extremely large importance to this particular novel, which is a deeply poignant one as it relates to the question of being a father and the responsibility people have as members of a family to support the well-being of others, whether we are dealing with self-sacrificial half-siblings or adoptive parents or spouses or those who view relationships as a ticket to a better life somewhere else.
The plot of this book continues immediately where the previous novel left off, with an increasing body count attributed to the freed slave of Helena’s ex-husband among those who had been involved in a failed conspiracy against Vespasian that leads Falco to leave the comforts of Rome and travel to Campania (the area around Naples and Pompeii), where he finds himself dealing with “men of honor” and people who are not interested in being forthcoming with him about that they are up to. Whether dealing with grain ships that are being waylaid in order to threaten the food supply of Rome or a foppish senator whose sister is madly in love with a somewhat immoral playboy to a seeming friendly captain who ends up treacherous to a mistaken case of identity that leads Falco to have to save his lady love from trouble Scott Pilgrim-style, to even a mysterious goat who finds himself attached to Falco because of his refusal to turn her into a meal, this book is definitely a strange one, and it has a compelling drama that even involves horse racing and how to thoughtfully deal with miscarriages and give advice to young people about relationships and jobs and the future.
The titular shadows in bronze appear to relate to a bronze statue of Helena Justina that is returned to her father’s household by Falco as he serves as an auctioneer to the estate of her purported late husband, who was reputedly slain in prison after the previous volume’s conspiracy was thwarted. Of course, things are never that simple. The reader sees Falco deal with various embarrassments like being thrown in prison while attempting to sell lead to householders in the Naples area as well as some unwanted sexual advances from a senator whose sister he has been giving harp lessons to. Falco even struggles with having Helena not communicate to him that she is pregnant until he realizes it all too late when she has a miscarriage, leading him to publicly claim his paternity by paying for her medical bills afterward even though she is the daughter of a senator much more wealthy than he is. Similarly, we see Falco serving in an avuncular role in helping a mopey nephew grow up and figure out what he wants to do with his life even as he is involved in solving another aspect to the previously thwarted conspiracy that leads him to face his fears of the water in order to rescue Rome’s grain fleet. All in all, this is a compelling and deeply moving novel.