The Iron Hand of Mars
|Series||Marcus Didius Falco|
|Genre||Historical Crime novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Venus in Copper|
|Followed by||Poseidon's Gold|
- 1 Plot introduction
- 2 Plot summary
- 3 Characters
- 4 Major themes
- 5 Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
- 6 Release details
- 7 Film, TV, Radio or theatrical adaptations
- 8 References
- 9 External links and quotations
Explanation of the novel's title
The title refers to the standard, shaped like a giant hand made of iron, which Falco is required to deliver to the imperial legions in Germany.
Following the events of Venus in Copper, the Imperial authorities are seeking Falco out for an assignment in Germany (which given the events of his last mission abroad, Falco is slow to accept). Meanwhile, Falco is not pleased with Titus Caesar attempting to hit on Helena. When Helena gets an invitation to a private dinner with Titus, she pleads with Falco stay by her side on the same day, but he instead decides to leave Rome that same day to see a potential client in Veii — who unfortunately turns out to be a widow more intent on pleasure than business. Disgusted, Falco returns to Rome, but Helena has disappeared. Falco then confronts Titus, who also reveals that he himself has not seen Helena either. Romantically depressed, Falco goes over to the Palatine to be personally briefed by the emperor Vespasian on his latest assignment — broker peace between Rome and the Celtic tribes of Germany (whose leaders are thought to be Veleda, a priestess and Julius Civilis, a local strongman), locate a missing military officer named Munius Lupercus, and deliver a new standard in the form of a two-foot long human hand, cast in iron, to the 14th Gemina — the last actually being a pretext for Falco to investigate them, given that the 14th Gemina is considered dubious in loyalty by Vespasian. Much to Falco's annoyance, he is also to escort an ex-slave named Xanthus into Germany as well, whose specialty is hairdressing.
Falco's trip is marked by a number of misadventures — poor food and even poorer wine, unscrupulous souvenir sellers and cramped conditions, as well as a murder — at Lugdunum, Falco and Xanthus bump into two travellers who end up in a quarrel with a group of potters and are found seemingly waylaid and murdered in the countryside. Falco suspects that they had been deliberately stalked and killed. At the crimescene, Falco makes the acquaintance of a centurio named Helvetius, before heading further north. Falco tries to contact Helena's brother Justinus, a military tribune serving at Argentoratum, but discovers that Justinus has already been transferred elsewhere, and so proceeds down the Rhenus further into Germany, where the relatively wealthy Xanthus is accosted by another souvenir seller named Dubnus. Going through Dubnus' wares, Falco discovers that he is selling relics which may have been loot from the ill-fated expedition of Varus, and asks Dubnus about Veleda, who tells him that she lives in a tower in the middle of the forest somewhere in the north.
Disembarking at Moguntiacum, Falco tries to contact the local military legate, Florius Gracilis, but discovers that like Lupercus, Gracilis has disappeared. Falco finally meets Justinus and upon discussing Gracilis further, he discovers that Gracilis has been absent without leave, and his whereabouts are unknown, and in addition to his official duties, begins tracking down Gracilis. Falco first meets Maena Priscilla, Gracilis' young wife, but things turn sour and Falco is driven out, but not before getting hints from Gracilis' accountant that he had issues with money. Falco tries again and locates the lover of Gracilis' slave Rusticus named Regina, but the conversation soon gets heated and Regina becomes antagonistic (it is revealed later that she had murdered Rusticus herself).
Next in line is Gracilis' Roman mistress, Julia Fortunata — who actually asks Falco to see her, because she too is looking for Gracilis. Out of leads, Falco finally tries to make enquiries with the camp prefect of the 14th Legion, but accidentally lets it slip that he was part of the infamous 2nd Augusta. Brusquely driven off and humiliated, he is warned by the camp prefect to cease asking around for Gracilis. Later, three apparently drunk soldiers attack Falco, but he is saved by Xanthus who kills one of the soldiers, and finally discovers that Justinus has another guest, and it's none other than Helena, who has also brought along his niece, Augustinilla, because her mother Augustinilla is having "woman problems". Falco and Helena go shopping and meet a German potter, Julius Mordanticus, whose uncle Bruccius has gone missing along with his cousin in Gaul. Falco immediately identifies Mordanticus' relatives as the men killed in Gaul, and tells Mordanticus to get in touch with the centurion Helvetius, while Helena discovers that there was strong business rivalry between the potters of Lugdunum and Moguntiacum over commercial contracts to supply high-quaility ceramics to the Roman army — suggesting that Gracilis himself had been bribed by Lugdunum. Helena then buys a bowl from Julius Mordanticus for Falco to bring back as a gift for his mother in Rome.
Eventually, Falco goes north with Justinus, Dubnus, Helvetius and twenty young recruits from the 1st Aduitrix, another legion present in Moguntiacum, in search of Civilis and Veleda, but is captured by the Bructeri along with Helvetius and the twenty other soldiers. He manages to meet Veleda and tries to convince her that Vespasian wants to make peace, but Veleda refuses to listen to him. Just as things begin to look bleak, however, Justinus rides in and speaks with Veleda in Celtic, offering himself up as a hostage in return for the safe passage of Falco and his team back to civilisation. Veleda soon agrees and gives Falco a silver token taken from Lupercus' body. Apparently, Lupercus was murdered by his own men. She asks Falco and Helvetius to use a galley captured from Petillius Cerialis (now decrepit from neglect) to escape so as to throw off the tribesmen's suspicion — she cannot be seen to be actively aiding the Romans. Justinus shortly after manages to rejoin the men, and tells Falco and Helvetius that Veleda does not wish for further war with Rome, and they take off in Cerialis' galley.
Unfortunately, the galley is in poor shape and Falco and the men are soon shipwrecked in the lands of the Tencteri, a staunchly anti-Roman tribe, where they encounter the 14th Gemina's legate, Florius Gracilis, hunting for aurochs with the Gauls of Lugdunum, who then kill Helvetius. Gracilis and his followers soon decide to kill Falco and Helvetius' men as well because they know too much, but Gracilis is gored to death by an aurochs, and Falco banishes the survivors of Gracilis' party. The Tencteri then attack Falco's party, but they are saved by the arrival of the 14th Gemina. One last job remains to be solved — finding Civilis. Fortunately for Falco, his formidable niece Augustinilla has managed to track down Civilis' whereabouts, and Falco goes to meet him — only to discover that Civilis is now an aged and broken man. Realising his time is up, Civilis agrees to accept Roman parole (as well as a new haircut from Xanthus!) Xanthus joins Civilis to start a new life as a freedman in Germany (although Falco suspects that Xanthus was also an Imperial agent meant to watch over Civilis). Back in Moguntiacum, a military parade is held to commemorate Vespasian's birthday, and the Iron Hand is finally handed over to the 14th Gemina. During the ceremony, Falco decides that Helena ought to marry Titus, but she asserts that she is staying put at Falco's side, and even writes the official report for the mission for Falco!
- Arria Silvia - Wife of Petronius Longus (friend of Falco's)
- Balbillus - Ex-legionary
- Canidius - A clerk of censored archives
- Decimus Camillus Verus - Senatorial father of Helena Justina.
- Helena Justina - Daughter of the Senator Decimus Camillus Verus
- Marcus Didius Falco - Informer and Imperial Agent from the Aventine.
- Titus Caesar - Eldest son of the Emperor.
- Xanthus - Barber
- Vespasian Augustus - Emperor of Rome.
- Arminia - Friend of Augustinilla
- Augustinilla - Falco's niece
- Dubnus - Pedlar
- Julius Mordanticus - Potter
- Regina - Barmaid at the Medua
Belonging to the Fourteenth Legion
- A Macrinus - Senior Tribune
- Cornicularis - Commissariat Clerk
- Florius Gracilis - Legate, missing.
- Julia Fortunata - Mistress of Florius.
- Maenia Priscilla - Wife of Florius.
- Primipilus - Chief Centurion
- Rusticus - Slave, missing.
- S. Juvenalis - Camp Prefect
Belonging to the First Legion
- Dama - Centurion
- Lentullus - Recruit
- Q. Camillis Justinus Helveticus - Brother of Helena Justina, Tribune.
- Investigation into the disappearance of an imperial legate and the whereabouts of a rebel leader.
- Developing relationship of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina.
- The pottery industry of Roman Gaul and Germany.
- Relations between Rome and the Celtic tribes of Germany.
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
- Set in Rome and Germania in AD 71, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian. The story takes place in the aftermath of a real rebellion by the Batavians and other Germanic tribes in AD 69-70. This is described by Tacitus in his Histories. However, much of this Tacitus' work has been lost and the Histories breaks off in the middle of the Batavian rebellion.
- 1992, UK, Hutchinson, Hardback (out of print)
- 1993, UK, Arrow, Paperback ISBN 0-09-920091-0
- 1994, US, Crown/Ballantine ISBN 0-345-38024-X
- 1999, UK, Arrow, Paperback ISBN 0-7126-8018-7 (as part of single-volume omnibus edition, Falco on his Metal, with Venus in Copper and Poseidon's Gold)
Film, TV, Radio or theatrical adaptations
- BBC Radio 4 starring Anton Lesser and Anna Madeley, first broadcast from 6 April 2007 in 6 parts.