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The Iron Hand of Mars

(Marcus Didius Falco #4)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  4,370 ratings  ·  156 reviews
One of the stories from the bestselling historical fiction Falco series.

AD 71. Germania Libera: dark dripping forests, inhabited by bloodthirsty barbarians and legendary wild beasts, a furious prophetess who terrorises Rome, and the ghostly spirits of slaughtered Roman legionaries.

Enter Marcus Didius Falco, an Imperial agent on a special mission: to find the absconding com
Kindle Edition, 354 pages
Published (first published 1992)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  4,370 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Assaph Mehr
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman-detectives
The Iron Hand of Mars is actually the first book I've read of the Falco series. I randomly picked up a battered copy at a used books stall in some weekend market, as the premise of a Roman-era detective was too good to pass on.
Nor was I disappointed. It took me a while to get the rest of the books, but I went back and read the series in order.

This novel tells of Falco on a secret mission to Germania. Exepct the usual noir-style mystery, tempered with the hazards of travel to a barbarian land. Ad
Karen Witzler
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I like it as much as ever - this reading was at least the third time through. I always enjoy the Varus and the Lost Legions subplot as well as the Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now journey that Falco and his Roman recruits take into Free Germany. Set in the second year of Vespasian's reign.
John Frankham
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-detective
The best in this series, so far. The key thing in this series is that, alongside the witty, humane and exciting historical whodunnit framework, plus a convincing range of civil, political, and family characters, Lindsey Davis writes well, and educates entertainingly about the nature and events of the Roman Empire in the AD 70s. In this case our hero, Didius Falco, in sent by Vespasian on a mission along the Rhine up to the Rhine delta in Germany, outside the comfortable control of the legions, a ...more
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all of the Falco novels, this one turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because it included more military adventures than other Falco books and swordplay.

This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, is tasked with attempting to derail a rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis and win over a mysterious prophetess. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major insurgency that arose duri
Jamie Collins
Not my favorite of the series, but still a decent read. Falco's journey through Gaul and Germania and his mission to find a missing legate seemed a bit dull to me. I continue to enjoy the characters, particularly Helena's brother, who was introduced in this book. Falco is still dead broke and he and Helena Justina are still squabbling like teenagers; after four books I'm ready for them to advance to the next stage.

Julie Davis
Mar 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always enjoyed the Marcus Didius Falco detective stories set in Emperor Vespasian's ancient Rome. The combination of modern detective fiction with author Lindsey Davis's knowledge of ancient customs and manners is winning. This is one of my favorites with Falco being sent to Germany where we encounter the barbarians who have been violating the truce calling for them to stay on their own side of the Rhine river. Plus a murder investigation, natch.
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I get why writers like to send their detectives out of their usual habitat; freshens things up, prevents it from getting too repetitive.

Problem is it often involves changing a lot of the dynamics, and sometimes the book dips as a result.

Personally that happened here. Falco traipsing around the Germanic forests with a bunch of legionaries who we never get to know properly isn't as much fun as Falco closing in on a mystery as he pounds around the streets of Rome, dealing with the same old stubborn
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have enjoyed Steven Saylor’s Finder series as much as Davis’ Falco series, but for slightly different reasons. Both are set in the Roman Empire of 2000 years ago (but at slightly different periods). Both show that their authors did a goodly amount of research to bring those times to life. Saylor’s approach is a bit more sober and measured. Davis has a lot of fun with Falco who is “always outnumbered, always outgunned.”

I haven’t found a theme in the other Falco books, but the theme of this boo
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Iron Hand of Mars" is probably the best of initial four books in the series about Marcus Didius Falco. Our protagonist is once again sent out of Rome on a very delicate mission, this time at the border between Gaul and Germany. The mission quickly becomes multi-faceted and dangerous in more ways than one for Falco and his somewhat odd companions. As usual, the characters and enviroments are flawless and there is a lot of humor. But at the same time "The Iron Hand of Mars" is a little diffe ...more
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marcus Didius Falco goes into Germany on a task for Emperor Vespasian. His lovely lady and girlfriend follows to find him The son of the Emperor, Titus, is making overtures to her to become his wife, and Falco thinks she would do more good to the Empire to do so. Will he sacrifice love for duty?
Michelle Kemp
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great story. Marcus Didius Falco gets the seamier jobs from the Emperor. He always gets the job down even if it means he finds uncomfortable information about the Emperor’s family.
aPriL does feral sometimes
'The Iron Hand of Mars' is #4 in the Marcus Didius Falco detective series, although he is not entirely a detective in the sense we moderns understand. Falco in a freelance "informer" in 71AD Rome. Several books ago, he began doing odd jobs for the Emperor Vespasian, and he also met a Senator's daughter, Helena Justina, who is WAY out of his class. In Rome, one pays for the privilege of changing rank upwards by literally buying it, like getting a license to drive, apparently. Falco is extremely p ...more
Melissa McShane
I didn't enjoy this one as much as the two previous Falco mysteries. Davis's depiction of the ancient world is superb as always, particularly the details of heading north out of (Roman) civilization and into the wilds of Germania. The mystery, on the other hand, was a little thin, often giving way to the details of Falco's Imperial task, in which he goes from being a detective to being a spy for Vespasian. It's interesting enough, but I felt that Falco's mission--to discover the fate of a Roman ...more
(A lot of soldiers in this but no warfare.)
Poor Falco, sent off to do the emperor's dirty work yet again. He's carting a literal iron hand up into Germania where it is to be presented to the 14th Gemina legion, a legion ready to do violence to Falco for having been a member of the legion which failed to support them in battle. That was a long time ago in another place and Falco would rather not think about it. He knows the 14th will remember the details only too well and will not appreciate his
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lindsey Davis has arrayed our favorite couple, Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina, with a marvelous supporting caste, heroes and villains, even a witch. Falco is sent on another seemingly impossible errand for Vespasian to the outposts of the Roman Empire and beyond. Falco has had to miss Helena's birthday dinner (forgive him, he didn't know that was the occasion) but he cannot find her to say good-bye. Luckily, he does encounter her younger brother. I hope we meet him again in a future volu ...more
The books drag a bit. And I'm getting a bit tired of the on again off again relationship with Falco and his lady love. Granted they need a certain amount of cash before they can marry due to class difference, but for the love of the gods, get on with it. The Latin is still giving me trouble, and I look forward to watching Falco getting himself out of the crazy situations the current Emperor puts him in. On to the next!
I am totally enamored with this series! A perfect blend of history, mystery, romance, action, and humor. This addition had more geography and history than some of the others which I thought slowed the pacing somewhat in parts. Still loved it though!
Rachel Burton
The one with the German Tribes, the brother, the little dog and the Prophetess in the Tower.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carey Combe
Finally, made me buy one of her books!
Vicki Kondelik
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Iron Hand of Mars is the fourth in Lindsey Davis' mystery series featuring the ancient Roman detective Marcus Didius Falco. The emperor Vespasian sends Falco on a mission to Germany. Falco is reluctant to go at first, but the emperor's son Titus has his eye on Falco's girlfriend Helena Justina and wants Falco out of the way, so he is forced to leave. Titus sends a barber named Xanthus, who wants to see the world, as Falco's traveling companion. But there is more to Xanthus than meets the eye ...more
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 4th (I think) adventure/investigation with Marcus Didius Falco, informer extraordinaire.
Having moved his beloved Helena Justina into his shabby garret on the wrong side of the Aventine, Falco finds that work has temporarily dried up. And then Vespacian, the Emperor, sends for him. Falco has found government work pays - never what they initially promised and rarely on time, but they do, eventually, pay. But when he is told his mission is to deliver an Imperial token - if one can call a massiv
Whilst I enjoy all Falco novels from Lindsey Davis, there are some that stand just a little bit above the rest. 'The Iron Hand of Mars' is one of those entries in the Roman detective series, and truth be told is an improvement on 'Venus in Copper' (the preceding entry). This is due in no small part to the location of most of the book's narrative. Taking Falco out of the capital and sending him on a decidedly dodgy mission in the wilds of Gaul and Germania allows for some colourful scene setting ...more
Andrew Doohan
Feb 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Our hero, Marcus Didio Falco, is sent to Germany by the Emperor on a special mission, but not before the Emperor's son exhibits signs of having designs on Falco's noble girlfriend. She disappears prior to his departure adding a level of concern to Falco's travels into an unfriendly land that still harbours those who would like to rebel against the power of Rome and recover their freedom.

Such is the setting for this edition in the ongoing adventures of Falco and the characters that surround him.
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I always like having a series of books that I can turn to for reliable fun reading. The Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis continues to be that series for me right now. Having reached book four, The Iron Hand of Mars, many of the early points of personal tension have worked themselves out so the stakes didn’t feel as high and the central plot wasn’t as thrilling. But the book still had a lot of the spirit and attitude that make these books so much fun to read and it’s set in a period of ...more
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fourth book in the Falco series finds Falco sent to Germany by the Emperor -- a long journey even in a time after Romans had created better travel conditions that would not be found again for centuries. In this case Vespasian has tasked Falco with several missions, all of them difficult. Falco's past as a member of legion that had not done well in Britain always hangs over him when he has to mingle with the military and the 14th legion that he has been sent to is a less than excellent legio ...more
Dennis Fischman
In this book both Falco and the author get lost in the wilds of Germania. If you don’t already know enough history to chant “Varus, give me back my legions!” on cue, and if you’re not interested in military history, the middle of this book will drag. It gets better when Helena’s brother makes his appearance, and even better (as always) when she shows up. Over all, this is not a book in which mysteries get solved, but some secrets are revealed—including how strongly our aristocratic last feels ab ...more
I've read a few of the books in this series. It is a "go-to" series, especially when I need an ancient Rome book for a book-challenge task.

I like Falco. I like that he is NORMAL....not super good looking, not a ladies man, not a God in his own mind....just normal. That is refreshing. This book was all about the mystery. Not the characters. Not the setting. Just the mystery.

And as usual, this had a contemporary vibe to it, and it worked here. I liked that and I think it benefits Falco and his f
Kathy R. Schultz
I’ve read a few books in the series here and there, but now I’m reading them in order. Here I am on number four, which is a reread for me, but I’m still having trouble following the action because the characters all seem to have multiple, interchangeable names. Many of the places also have multiple names. I don’t speak Latin 🤔, so one name per character is already a little tricky.
I realize that my review is just a complaint. I like the series well enough to come back for more. That should show
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. Entertaining radio drama that kept my interest and was fun listening. Have been quite busy lately and am choosing books that have been more soothing and not overly complicated. This mid-series choice did the trick. The era was interesting and found another book (Robert Harris Conspirata) that takes me to early Rome again.

Will I continue with the series - most certainly.

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Lindsey Davis, historical novelist, was born in Birmingham, England in 1949. Having taken a degree in English literature at Oxford University (Lady Margaret Hall), she became a civil servant. She left the civil service after 13 years, and when a romantic novel she had written was runner up for the 1985 Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, she decided to become a writer, writing at first romanti ...more

Other books in the series

Marcus Didius Falco (1 - 10 of 20 books)
  • The Silver Pigs (Marcus Didius Falco, #1)
  • Shadows in Bronze (Marcus Didius Falco, #2)
  • Venus in Copper (Marcus Didius Falco, #3)
  • Poseidon's Gold (Marcus Didius Falco, #5)
  • Last Act in Palmyra (Marcus Didius Falco, #6)
  • Time to Depart (Marcus Didius Falco, #7)
  • A Dying Light in Corduba (Marcus Didius Falco, #8)
  • Three Hands in the Fountain (Marcus Didius Falco, #9)
  • Two for the Lions (Marcus Didius Falco, #10)
  • One Virgin Too Many (Marcus Didius Falco, #11)

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