Not long ago, I wrote about classics Professor Mary Beard's post about Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, among other things. In her column, she mentioned meeting Lindsey Davis, author of eighteen novels about ancient Roman gumshoe, Marcus Didius Falco.
I was intrigued, and promptly ordered three of the novels from Amazon ($6.99). While Davis says she writes her novels so that you can read them in any order, I thought since I had the first one, I should at least read that one first. I'm glad I did. It establishes the basic cast of characters pretty well.
The Silver Pigs moves right along. In classic detective (known in ancient Rome as "informer") style, Falco has no money, has an abusive landlord, lots of women (and women problems), gets no respect, and gets beaten up by thugs on a regular basis.
The plot is coherent, fast-paced and plausible, making the book hard to put down. There are scenes at the Forum and the Imperial Palace, references to the Circus Maximus, and Palatine Hill, and the Cloaca Maximus. The people seem remarkably modern in their emotions and moods. The more things change, the more they stay the same. At the same time, the setting and amenities are deliciously ancient. And Ancient Rome, though full of police and military types, is indeed a treacherous place to live. Falco knows his territory, though, and manages, sometimes just barely, to stay alive.
The silver pigs are ingots of silver, one of which turns up in Rome. Heavy and hard to hide, Falco must secure the pig, then untangle a plot to smuggle in huge amounts of silver to finance the overthrow of the Emperor. Picking through the web of intrigue, he discovers a double cross. Whom can he trust? It is very hard to tell through much of the book.
On the journey, some horrible things happen, and some wonderful things happen, making for a very satisfying read.
I have two more, which I think will accompany me on the trip to Roan. The perfect summer books, they ask little of the reader, except to allow yourself to get pulled into into their world.
Meanwhile, I'm going to hit the library and see if they have any of Lindsey's other novels. Given a choice, I think I'll try to read them in order.
[Image via Museum of London]