Nemesis by Lindsey Davis

24 June, 2013


Ah, Falco. How I will miss thee. It’s almost 20 years since I first stumbled across The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis’ introduction to the historical mystery genre. I was heavily into Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mysteries but Davis’ intriguing mixture of daily Roman life and sweeping political history together with some lovable, witty and questionable characters proved to be a veritable hit as it spawned 20 books charting the slippery career of private investigator Marcus Didius Falco. I have read and re-read them throughout the years, spontaneously bursting into little dances whenever I found out another was being published. Davis manages to infuse her Roman mysteries with charm, wit and gravity all the while slipping us intriguing morsels of daily Roman life during Emperor Vespasian’s rule. Falco is a charming, self-deprecating and honourable private investigator who weaves through the intricate and complex social and hierarchical structures of Roman life, finding clues and capturing criminals and winning the love of his life, Helena Justina. I love their romance which highlighted the strict social and moral codes ingrained in Roman life and the difficulties of transcending class.

In Nemesis, his last case, Falco is now 36, a family man who has managed to win a Senator’s daughter and moved up the social ladder without forgetting his roots. He has also acquired some children, held on to his loyal friends and keeps a tight watch on his enemies. Jaded but still with a good heart, Falco is someone you want to be friends with. In fact, I’m rather jealous of Helena Justina, his calm, cool and intelligent wife who had the sense to know she was on to a winner when she first hired his services to bring her back to Rome in one piece from dangerous Britain in The Silver Pigs. As with any series spanning several years, you occasionally falter and get diverted. But I always made sure I did read the books as they were published and with each reading I remind myself why I love Davis’ writing.

In Nemesis, Falco and his best friend Lucius Petronius Longus, a senior vigile in the Fourth Cohort who also happens to live with Falco’s favourite sister Maia Favonia, are looking into the disappearance and death of a countryman petitioning against his neighbours from hell, the Claudii. When their investigation takes them to the Pontine Marshes, a festering dead-end outside Rome, they begin to uncover sinister rumours of kidnapping, violence and a suspicious cover-up that goes all the way back to Imperial Rome. When their case is snatched by Anacrites, chief spy and Falco’s wannabe friend/enemy, Falco smells a rat. And so they continue their investigation in secret. But this time they are dealing with an out of control family used to violence and bullying which leads both Falco and Petronius into very dark territory. Will they find the killer without sacrificing their honour and integrity? And can they keep their families safe? And exactly what hold do they have over Anacrites?

There has been a recent tragedy in Falco’s family and this case is just what he needs. But he is now a family man so he can’t go it alone. Davis’ portrayal of Falco’s family is sweet, messy and spot on. Her books are always about more than just the mystery and yet with Nemesis, I couldn’t wait to uncover all the secrets which have lain festering over the series. Loose ends are tied and the ending was fitting indeed. Dark and sober and yet Falco remains Falco, although a little rougher around the edges. The tone of the last book in the series is darker than usual, but there has always been a kernel of darkness in Davis’ books. They are about murder and criminals, after all, but balanced beautifully by the sorrows and joys of daily life.

I had thought I’d read this book when it was published a few years ago and I read Aarti’s post. But I only realised after reading Davis’ newest book, The Ides of April, that I had actually forgotten to take this out of the library. So yes, it’s good bye to Falco but not completely. Because Falco’s fiery fosterling, Flavia Albia, is taking over her father’s mantle. Exciting times ahead!

And if by chance you haven’t had the good fortune to read any of the Falco books, why not do yourselves a favour and get your hands on The Silver Pigs? I promise, you won’t regret it.

11 Responses to “Nemesis by Lindsey Davis”

  1. Feanor Says:

    I’ve only read ‘One Virgin Too Many’ and I must say it’s put me off Falco a bit. But I did see Lindsey Davis on TV the other day – she was being interviewed in a programme on politically activist women in the early Roman empire!

    • sakura Says:

      I saw that too! There’s something about reading a series from the beginning that endears you to a character. My favourite is still probably the first in the series, The Silver Pigs. Btw, have you read Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder mysteries? They are a lot darker and more political.

      • Feanor Says:

        Yup, I did read one of those Gordianus tales – not hyper-excited by that either. It seemed to be more a description of Roman times with a detective overlay than anything else. This is my beef with most historical crime fiction – there’s too much of this take-a-modern-detective-and-sticke-him-in-the-past.

        So what’s happening? Enjoying the summer?

        • sakura Says:

          I don’t mind that about historical mysteries since I like reading about all the historical detail. And I don’t mind if they fudge some of the detail as long as I don’t spot any glaring mistakes.

          What summer? I think I need to leave the country to catch some proper sun! You?

          • Feanor Says:

            Come on, it was sunny today! 🙂 No plans, really. Might nip over to Italy for a longish weekend, but not sure yet.

          • sakura Says:

            I’m off to Colombo and KL in a month for a family holiday which should satisfy my annual quota of heat and humidity. Italy should be amazing!

  2. Rikki Says:

    The last Falco book? I never knew. I read a lot, but not all and really liked them. Not sure I want to read the last one.
    As for The Silver Pigs, yes, it was the first book I read in the series and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. Only later with others like Body in the bath house or Ode to a banker I got into Falco.
    As for Gordianus, I donÄ’t like them at all. I read Murder on the Via Appia because it covered an incident I wanted to see Saylor’s take on and was disappointed.
    My favourite series is the one by David Wishart who does exactly what Feanor criticizes. The detective is super modern, but the stories, the setting and the characters are so great that you just have to love the series.

    • sakura Says:

      You must read the last one – I thought it ended well! I have to say I did like Gordianus although it’s very different from Falco – I liked the one dealing with Clodia which was pretty dark (I think that’s The Venus Throw). I do have Ovid by Wishart on my shelves so I’ll make a special effort to get to it this year!

  3. Rikki Says:

    Good choice,as that is the first one in the series. I totally love Marcus Corvinus, he is my fav ancient Roman sleuth. Looking forward to what you think of it.
    Gordianus for me never developed a personality, but maybe I need to read more books, will check the library.

  4. TracyK Says:

    I am intending to start reading the Falco series and I have The Silver Pig and a couple more. You have definitely motivated me and I will get to the first one in the next few months. If I were to skip about the books after that, would it matter? Or should I read in order?

    • sakura Says:

      I’d probably read the first three books in succession as they do follow on from one another. The books do follow a loose chronological order and charts Falco’s relationships with the other characters. But there are 20 in the series the ones in the middle are ok. Happy reading!

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