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Ancient Roman Comic Crime
The Silver Pigs - Lindsey Davis
Member Name: luckyarchers
The Silver Pigs - Lindsey Davis
Date: 15/07/09, updated on 26/11/13 (319 review reads)
Advantages: Fast-paced, humorous, escapist sit-com.
Disadvantages: Too light a read for some.
*** The Author ***
This is the first book in Lindsey Davis's series about Marcus Didius Falco, a private informer in Rome circa AD 70. She has written 19 so far, but hopefully there are even more to come.
Her next novel, due to be published in September, is not a Falco book though. It is Rebels and Traitors set against the English Civil War.
While I think it is desirable to read the Falco series in order, it isn't essential, as each book in the series is self-contained, but I would advise reading The Silver Pigs first to understand how the team featured in the other books is formed. It is also one of the best in the series.
Falco has won this British author the Sherlock award for the Best Comic Detective.
The novels have been translated into many languages, and serialised for BBC radio, so audio versions of the books are also available.
*** Historical Accuracy ***
The author appears to have researched Emperor Vespasian's era well, but these books are primarily a form of escapist fiction, helped by their time and location to stand out from the run of the mill crime novels.
There is one probable factual inaccuracy though. The author tells us in an introduction that, since The Silver Pigs was first published in 1989, the consensus of opinion about how silver/lead ingots were made has changed. While I appreciated her pointing this out, it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the novel.
I found the detailed maps of Imperial Rome and Europe at the front of the book very useful, as I am not very familiar with this period of history. There is also an introduction to the main characters, including the factual Emperor Vespasian and his two sons, showing whether they are based in Rome or Britain, and their relevance to the story.
*** Main Characters ***
Like most great fictional private investigators, Falco loves to charm the ladies, but that is where the similarity to the norm stops. He has close family ties, including a domineering mother, plus the partner and child of his late brother. As his father has not been seen for many years, he assumes the position of breadwinner for the vulnerable members of the family.
As well as the poor girl his brother never found time to marry before his death in battle, Falco has five sisters, and many extended family members, which has resulted in him having plenty of young nephews, nieces and cousins. This can be a hindrance when they call out his name while he is supposed to be hidden, but these artful urchins can also come in handy for following suspected adulterers, while Falco slopes away to something more interesting.
I think that Falco comes over as a well-rounded character, as he is shown as having a variety of good and bad qualities.
The person I liked the best was Falco's domineering mother. I felt her heart was in the right place, even if some of her actions were humorously irritating to her family.
A senator's daughter and her family were the most intriguing, but I will leave readers to find out why.
Smaractus, a property speculator and owner of a gladiator's training school, is one of the personalities that I would least like to get involved with.
*** The Plot ***
The main plot of this novel involves political rivalry leading to theft and murder. Falco is enlisted to travel from his relatively comfortable, if simple, lifestyle in Rome, to work in harsh British mines.
There are inevitably violent scenes, but these are not dwelt on in more detail than is necessary for the plot.
*** Recommendation ***
This is the sort of light novel that I would most recommend for holiday reading, or train commuters, who may find it hard to concentrate on something heavier in the environment they find themselves in.
If you want to get stuck into a traditional crime thriller, or want to be force fed history lessons with your fiction, look elsewhere.
The Silver Pigs is an Ancient Roman sit-com aimed at those who would like a fast-paced, humorous, escapist read.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd (7 Feb 2008)
Summary: An Ancient Roman sit-com aimed at those who would like a fast-paced, humorous, escapist read.