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The Accusers    by Lindsey Davis order for
by Lindsey Davis
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this her fifteenth Marcus Didius Falco mystery, Lindsey Davis gives us a legal thriller set in ancient Rome, A.D. 75 - 76. Falco and his two brothers-in-law, Justinius and Aelianus, investigate (and Falco even takes the oratorial stage briefly) while Helena Justina plays the noble Roman matron, only occasionally getting in on the interviewing act.

The senatorial Metellus family has a big secret (which they keep till close to the end of the novel) and a dead patriarch. Was it suicide, to stave off financial disaster, as claimed? Or did a family member nudge Rubirius Metellus on his way to Hades with hemlock? Two sophisticated and very canny lawyers, 'wary old wolves' Silius and Paccius, take turns pointing the finger at different Metellus offspring, as a game of musicial defendants begins.

When they finally settle on the 'ineffectual' son, Metellus Negrinus, he pleads for and wins soft-hearted Falco's help. Marcus has to figure out who really 'dunit before his client is convicted. Our hero is beaten up, suffers a false accusation of impiety (he truly did occasionally visit the priestly poultry under his care, if only in search of eggs for omelettes), and risks financial ruin for daring to speak the truth. Along the way, readers learn that death by hemlock is a messy business.

Though filled with fascinating details of corruption in the ancient judicial system and such entertaining tidbits as the involvement of clowns in funeral rites, this is one of the more pedestrian episodes in the series. However a Falco adventure is always an engaging read, and The Accusers is not to be missed by fans.

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