I must admit that I’m always happy when a new Falco novel hits the shelves. I’ve been reading this series of books since the first one, The Silver Pigs, came out and have never been disappointed. The main protagonist, Marcus Didius Falco, is a great character with an almost perfect mixture of honour and character flaws that keep you guessing exactly what he’s going to do next while still being quite sure he’s not going to do anything shocking. His wife, and partner in crime-fighting, the stunning Helena Justina is one of the most tantalising and desirable women in fiction [just in case my wife actually gets around to reading this, note the use of the word ‘fiction’].
The wit of Davis’ writing, combined with the believability of her characters would be enough reason to read these stories. But what really clinches it for me are the settings. Falco is an informer, the Ancient Roman equivalent to a private detective, who occasionally works for the Emperor Vespasian. He lives in Rome and many of his adventures result in, or are a result of, travel to various parts of the Empire. Many historical settings in novels read like the result of some fairly dry academic research, or an attempt to demonstrate the author’s knowledge of a period with lots of extraneous details thrown in for good measure. But that is not the case with Davis’ evocation of the first century Roman world; her touch is light enough for the settings to be palpable but not intrusive or distracting, while selectively detailed enough for the locations to be experienced vicariously through her characters. When Falco is in his tenement apartment in Fountain Court I can almost feel myself there, transported back at least to time spent at the archaeological site of Ostia Antica on various holidays if not to Ancient Rome itself.
Alexandria has been in my reading pile since I received it for my birthday last year. Usually a Falco novel will miraculously rise to the top, but due to other pressures this time it didn’t and then (quite literally) got buried under so much other stuff that I almost forgot about it until I noticed an advert for the next one, Nemesis, which was released in paperback a few days ago. So I dug it out and read it almost in one sitting. Despite being the nineteenth Falco novel, and with well-established (and well-loved) characters, it is still fresh and fun to read.
If you’ve never read any of Davis’ Falco novels, it’s a good idea to start at the beginning with The Silver Pigs and work your way through in chronological order so, among other things, you can see Falco and Helena’s relationship develop.