Thalia has lost an expensively trained water-organist; then Anacrites, the devious Chief Spy, makes his most dangerous appearance, this time persuading Falco to travel to Nabataea – preceded by a friendly message that the dwellers in Petra might like to peg out the Roman adventurer for the crows. Discovering the body of a dead playwright on the High Place offers a chance to dump the official mission and look for Thalia’s missing musician instead. Falco and the indomitable Helena join a seedy group of theatrical players for a jaunt around the Decapolis cities that eventually leads to Palmyra at the crossroads of the eastern and western trade routes. It would be a holiday – but for the scorpions, evangelists, perpetrators of human sacrifice, drought, plague, and constant reminders that they have a murderer in their midst. Undaunted, Falco takes up his stylus and writes the Plautian prototype for ‘Hamlet’ – though a donkey, a python and the threat of a riot conspire to ruin his first night.
This is the one where Oliver, my editor, helpfully provided the original for the camel joke – causing two gynaecologists to write and complain that the language had coarsened, no doubt at the behest of some unscrupulous editor …
Research Notes: Thanks to Helen for wanting to go to Syria, London Zoo Reptile House for the lowdown on snakes, and Bill Tyson for scorpion bite facts.
The Falco novels get better – more original, more amusing, more daring – with every run out – Oxford Times
Hilariously good writing – The Washington Post
‘“Marcus Didius has things on his mind.”
In a crisis Helena made no comment about the emergency. Her eyes met mine. I gave her the smile of a helpless man in the hands of a very beautiful nurse.’
Chosen by readers, Rosina and George Harter