Venus in Copper

Venus in Copper is a crime novel by Lindsey Davis.

Plot introduction

Set in Rome during August and September of AD 71, Venus in Copper stars Marcus Didius Falco, Informer and Imperial Agent.

Explanation of the novel's title

The title refers to a simple copper signet ring, with a portrait of Venus, worn by the suspect Severina Zotica.

Plot summary

The story begins in Rome during late spring, AD 71. Falco is in the Latumiae Prison, accused by Anacrites of having stolen imperial lead (Shadows in Bronze). Bailed out by his mother, Falco is heading across the city to visit Helena Justina when he is beaten up by his landlord's bullyboys for defaulting on his rent. When he finally arrives at the senator's house near the Capena Gate, he finds Helena in a reception room. Marcus decides to resume working as an independent, despite the fact that this means he is unlikely to be able to earn enough money to buy himself into a higher rank so that he can marry Helena.

Hyacinthus arrives at Falco's apartment in Fountain Court to inform him of possible clients. Falco agrees to visit the Hortensii, who live on the Pincian Hill. There, Sabina Pollia informs him that all of the Hortensii (Crepito, Felix, Novus and their wives) live together in the one house. Former slaves in the same household, they have now earned their freedom and set up in business together. Novus is the only one currently unwed and he is due to marry Severina Zotica. Sabina Pollia informs Falco that she believes Severina plans to murder Novus.

Falco investigates the claims. At the same time he also begins to hunt for a new apartment in which to live.

During the course of the investigation, Falco is once more arrested and imprisoned in the Latumiae. Two days later he is brought before Titus Caesar. Anacrites brings forth his charges regarded the lead. Falco is freed, provided he repays whatever is owed for the lead to the Emperor, and is asked to undertake more work for the Palace. He agrees to be available provided he is paid for previous missions that have already been completed. This is agreed to by Titus and he is invited to dinner. As a present, the Emperor's son promises him a turbot.

Returning to the house of the Hortensii, Falco discovers that Novus is dead on the privy after a banquet. He has been poisoned. Severina comes under suspicion. Falco continues to investigate, but can find no real lead. Sabina wants to pay him off and considers him a failure, when the news arrives that Viridovix is also dead. He too had been poisoned.

The arrival of the turbot becomes the cause of an impromptu party amongst friends and family of the Didii. Helena arrives, complete with baggage with which to move in with Falco, only to discover that she had not been invited to the party. Distraught, she attempts to leave and is prevented by Falco. Then Titus and the Praetorians arrive to sample the fish. At the end of the party, Helena remains behind.

Continuing to investigate the Hortensii, Falco is beaten badly by thugs working for Appius Priscillus. He is finally helped to Petronius', who sends for Helena. Helena takes him home to their new apartment.

When he finally recovers, he continues to investigate. He returns from the Hortensii in time to see the apartment block in which they are living collapse. Believing Helena to be inside, Falco and others begin to dig. Helena arrives just as all hope seems lost. Falco discovers that the Hortensii had owned the apartment block.

Falco and Helena move back into Fountain Court.

Characters in "Venus in Copper"

Friends, Enemies and Family

  • Marcus Didius Falco - Informer and Imperial Agent from the Aventine.
  • Helena Justina - Daughter of the Senator Decimus Camillus Verus, and romantic interest of Falco.
  • Lucius Petronius Longus - Member of the Vigiles and friend of Falco.
  • Anacrites - Imperial spy.
  • Asiacus - Gladiator and bullyboy for Smaractus
  • Decimus Camillus Verus - Senatorial father of Helena Justina.
  • Famia - Horse doctor and brother-in-law of Falco, married to Maia.
  • Gaius Baebius - Brother-in-law of Falco, married to Junia.
  • Geminus - Auctioneer.
  • Julia Justa - Mother of Helena Justina.
  • Junia - Sister of Falco
  • Lenia - A Laundress.
  • Maia - Sister of Falco
  • Rodan - Gladiator and bullyboy for Smaractus
  • Smaractus - Falco's Landlord.
  • Titus Caesar - Eldest son of the Emperor.
  • Vespasian Augustus - Emperor of Rome.

Suspects and Witnesses

  • Anthea - Skivvy
  • Appius Priscillus - Property mogul
  • Cossus - A letting agent
  • Hortensia Atila - Freedwoman and wife of Crepito
  • Hortensius Crepito - Freedman and business partner of Novus
  • Hortensius Felix - Freedman and business partner of Novus
  • Hortensius Novus - A freedman, betrothed to Severina.
  • Hyacinthus - Employed by the Hortensii
  • Lusius - Praetor's clerk
  • Minnius - Cake-seller
  • Sabina Pollia - Freedwoman and wife of Felix
  • Scaurus - Mason
  • Severina Zotica - Suspect 'professional bride' with three deceased husbands.
  • Thalia - Exotic dancer and snake charmer
  • Tyche - Fortune-teller
  • Viridovix - Gallic chef

Death Toll

  • Hortensius Novus - Found dead on the privy after being poisoned.
  • Viridovix - Poisoned
  • Cossus - Crucified by the crowd

Major themes

  • Falco is employed by the Hortensii to investigate Severina Zotica.
  • Developing relationship of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina.

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

  • Set in Rome in AD 71, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian.

Film, TV, Radio or theatrical adaptations

  • BBC World: Radio 4 starring Anton Lesser/Anna Madeley

Release details

  • 1991, UK, Hutchinson, Hardback
  • 1992, UK, Arrow, ISBN 0-09-983170-8, Paperback
  • 1993, US, Crown/Ballantine, ISBN 0-345-37390-1
  • 1999, UK, Arrow, ISBN 0-7126-8018-7, Paperback (as part of single-volume Omnibus, Falco on his Metal, with The Iron Hand of Mars and Poseidon's Gold.)
  • 2000, UK, Isis Audio, ISBN 0-7531-0688-4 (read by Christopher Scott)

Sources, references, external links, quotations

Author's Official Website

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