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Falco No 7: in which Helena is expecting, and Falco is expecting trouble!,
This review is from: Time to Depart (Paperback)
This is the seventh, and one of the most entertaining, in a series of excellent detective stories set in Vespasian's Roman Empire and featuring the informer Marcus Didius Falco. Informers in ancient Rome were something between a private detective and a government spy.
At the start of the book, in Autumn of 72 AD, Falco and his girlfriend Helena Justina have just arrived back in Rome after the mission to the middle east described in "Last Act in Palmyra" to find that Falco's friend Petro has finally managed to obtain the evidence required to get a prominent local crimelord sentenced to exile. They put the miscreant, the un-aptly named Balbinus Pius, on a boat at the Roman port of Ostia and hope to never see him again.
Also at the start of the book, Falco finds that Helena Justina is pregnant again, having miscarried their child in an earlier book. Falco wants to marry her, but to obtain the status to marry a senator's daughter he needs to obtain promotion from plebian rank (the lowest grade of freeborn Roman) to at least the equestrian (middle class) order, a promotion which Domitian Caesar has already refused.
But before he can get too concerned about this, people who were invovled in sending Balbinus into exile start turning up dead in suspiscious circumstances. Has he really gone - and can Falco and Petro find out who is killing the witnesses before he works round to them?
I initially tried this series because I had enjoyed the "Cadfael" mediaeval detective stories by Ellis Peters. Where Cadfael is excellent, Falco is brilliant. Ellis Peters herself (or to use her real name, Edith Pargeter) said of the early books of the series, 'Lindsey Davis continues her exploration of Vespasian's Rome and Marcus Didius Falco's Italy with the same wit and gusto that made "The Silver Pigs" such a dazzling debut and her rueful, self-deprecating hero so irresistibly likeable.'
Funny, exciting, and based on a painstaking effort to re-create the world of the early Roman empire between 70 and 76 AD.
If you have met and enjoyed the Cadfael series, this is even better.
It isn't absolutely essential to read these stories in sequence, as the mysteries Falco is trying to solve are all self-contained stories and each book can stand on its own. Having said that, there is some ongoing development of characters and relationships and I think reading them in the right order does improve the experience.
The full Falco series, in chronological order, consists at the moment of:
The Silver Pigs
Shadows in Bronze
Venus in Copper
The Iron Hand of Mars
Last Act in Palmyra
Time to Depart
A Dying Light in Corduba
Three Hands in the Fountain
Two for the Lions
One Virgin Too Many
Ode to a Banker
A Body in the Bath house
The Jupiter Myth
Scandal taks a Holiday
See Delphi and Die
I have read and can warmly recommend all of these.
In addition, Lyndsey Davis has written another novel in which one of the real historical characters who has a minor part in "Time to Depart" moves to centre stage.
"The Course of Honour" tells the tale of the love story between Vespasian and his mistress Caenis. Davis takes a person who is known to us only from two or three lines in Suetonius's "The Twelve Caesars" and from those lines creates a charming pen portrait of a living and vital woman and the love of her life.