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Marcus Didius Falco series #18

by Lindsey Davis

      Eighteen novels and still going strong ...eighteen bestsellers too! We all love Falco and his fascinatingly anarchic family and the tangled cases he has to solve. This time it is Christmas, or rather Saturnalia when even the most staid Romans throw parties and do the bidding of the Lord of Misrule. But something is wrong; a valuable prisoner who was to be executed as part of the celebrations has gone missing. She was staying under house arrest at the home of a nobleman, and before absconding, she has beheaded one of her hosts. Falco is on the case, and so is Anacrites, so he had better watch his back. The lady in question is none other than Veleda, whom he met several years earlier in the forests of Free Germany where she was a priestess. Trouble is, it was Falco’s noble brother-in-law who she entertained in her tower home, and now he is respectably married but still in love with her.

The main target of Lindsey Davis’ satire in this novel is Christmas, and it is interesting to see how the two festivals resemble each other. This is not a book with a particularly fat or tortuous plot, and like higher numbers in most long-running series is most entertaining when the readers are getting up to date, soap opera style, with the various characters. We are regaled as ever with some genuine humor, tragedy and sharp character sketches as Falco plays host to a bunch of soldiers, meets a man who thinks he is a ghost, assists the fire brigade and celebrates Saturnalia in his own inimitable way. Does it give a convincing portrait of 1st century Rome? We can never really know this of course, but as usual Ms Davis is adept at drawing parallels between our own times and two thousand years ago. Sometimes this is at the expense of realism, but more often than not one of this writer’s strengths is in portraying Falco and his companions as possessing most of the mores and morals of their times. Entertaining, though not her strongest entry due to the stretched and rather linear plotline.

The Book

Century (Random House UK)
1 February 2007
ISBN-13: 9781846050343
Historical Crime - AD 76, Rome, Italy
More at US|| UK
NOTE: US copy has different cover and publication date: May 2007

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2007
© 2006