The Iron Hand of Mars

Author: Lindsay Davis
Starring: Anton Lesser, Anna Madeley, Ben Crowe,
Jonathan Keeble and Michael Tudor Barnes
BBC Audio
RRP: 15.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 68795 9
Available 05 November 2007

The fourth instalment of the popular Marcus Didius Falco dramatised private-eye mysteries set in first century Rome. With Titus Caesar in pursuit of Marcus Didius Falco's patrician girlfriend, Helena, the sleuth Falco is dispatched by Vespasian on an undercover mission to Roman Gaul, where there has been trouble with the natives. He must exercise his diplomatic skills on the very uncivil Civilis...

The Iron Hand of Mars follows on from BBC Radio 4's dramatisations of Lindsey Davis's previous novels The Silver Pigs, Shadows in Bronze and Venus in Copper. Anna Madeley returns as Helena Justina, along with Ben Crowe as Falcos best friend Petronius, Jonathan Keeble as Titus Caesar and Michael Tudor Barnes as Vespasian.

This audio drama sees Falco being dispatched to one of the most hostile parts of the Empire to deliver a new standard - an iron hand - to one of the legions. Germania is cold, wet, dismal and full of dark forests inhabited by bloodthirsty barbarians, but Falco has an even bigger problem to worry about: he has forgotten Helena Justina's birthday, and she is being pursued by the Emperor's son Titus Caesar.

As Falco makes his way through dangerous territory, he encounters the aftermath of a grisly crime, investigates the case of a missing legate, gets into trouble with a centurion and has a fateful encounter with a Celtic priestess and a giant bull. With the help of his travelling companions Helena's tribune brother Justinus, redundant barber Xanthus and Helveticus Falco must try to complete his most deadly mission yet.

While this production captures the spirit of Davis's original tale, and builds well on the three previous plays, I couldn't help thinking that it may be a little too dry for some listeners.

Pete Boomer

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