Set in Vespasian's Rome, Falco is a private detective, who owes a lot to Sam Spade (think a young Humphrey Bogart in a toga and you've got Falco!) An unlikely mixture of Dashiell Hammett, the best of '40s and '50s film noir, and I, Claudius, with a clever balance of mystery, humour and romance, Davis produces a series of top quality mysteries. What's really clever about all the Falcos is that the mystery at the heart of each book is well plotted, however funny or romantic the situation she never forgets that she is essentially a crime writer. She's also an expert at swift changes of mood moving easily between comedy, pathos, and gripping mystery.
I haven't read the Falco series in order, although I have read many of them, and I think that Venus in copper is one of her best. Falco is hired to investigate the fiancee of a freed slave. Hortensius Novus (the freedman) lives with a group of other freed slaves, who have become increasingly concerned by his fiancee's track record in the dead husbands' department. Falco takes on the case somewhat reluctantly - his relationship with his feisty girlfriend, Helena Justina, has hit problems, and he is being persecuted by the slimy Anacrites, Vespasian's Chief (and rather incompetent) Spy. When Hortensius Novus is found dead in appalling circumstances and Falco finds himself unwittingly an accessory to murder he is forced to investigate further, but what really was the motive behind Novus' death, how do you cook a turbot in a small space while entertaining a future Emperor and keeping his paws off your girlfriend, not to mention interviewing that parrot? These are all questions that need to be resolved before the book draws to its conclusion.
One of the funniest Falco books with great moments of pathos, it's also one of the best mysteries. Beneath a froth of humour and romance is a dark tale of murder for money, revenge, and corruption. Of course it's always good to start at the beginning of a series and read and grow with the characters, but if you want to see Falco at his stunning best Venus in copper may well be the book for you.