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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 November 2013
I thought this book was great I love the Falco series, it is a pity that it Falco has stopped I know the new generation is out but the the humour in Falco was great
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on 20 July 2017
Excellent as ever:)
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This is the eighteenth 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.

It is AD76, at the start of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Falco finds out that a figure from his past - and more particularly, his brother-in-law's past - has been brought to Rome to play the supporting role in a Roman Triumph followed by the starring role in an execution ...

In the fourth book in the series, "The Iron Hand of Mars" set five years before, Marcus Didius Falco had been sent on an undercover mission to the wilds of Germany, an area which the Roman Empire had definately not managed to pacify. The mission led Falco, with his then girlfriend Helena Justina (now his wife), and her brother Camillus, to the beautiful but sinister tribal prophetess Veleda. Camillus promptly fell in love with her.

Back in 71AD, Falco had brokered a deal with Veleda: she would stop inciting the German tribes to attack the Roman Empire, the Empire would leave her alone. Five years on, Veleda appears to have largely kept her side of the bargain, though accounts differ. However, an ambitious and incompetent governor decides to boost his prestige by tricking Veleda into coming to Rome as a hostage, with the intention of presenting her capture as a great victory and then having her executed. The governor arrives in Rome with his hostage, and then goes off on holiday without making adequate arrangements for Veleda's security, and - surprise surprise - on hearing what is actually planned for her, she escapes.

As one of the few Roman officials who has actually met the lady, Falco is charged with recapturing her and given the doubtful assistance of a dozen legionaries who escorted her from Germany to Rome - who are billeted on Falco's home with the instruction "you will have to pretend that they are your relatives." And all this during a festival dedicated to mischief ...

I tried this series because I had enjoyed Ellis Peter's "Brother Cadfael" detective stories. 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 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:

1) The Silver Pigs
2) Shadows in Bronze
3) Venus in Copper
4) The Iron Hand of Mars
5) Poseidon's Gold
6) Last Act in Palmyra
7) Time to Depart
8) A Dying Light in Corduba
9) Three Hands in the Fountain
10) Two for the Lions
11) One Virgin Too Many
12) Ode to a Banker
13) A Body in the Bath house
14) The Jupiter Myth
15) The Accusers
16) Scandal taks a Holiday
17) See Delphi and Die
18) Saturnalia
19) Alexandria

and expected in 2010:

20) Nemesis.

I have read and can warmly recommend the first 19 books in this series. (Obviously at the time of writing I have not seen "Nemesis" yet.)
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VINE VOICEon 3 August 2007
This latest story in the ongoing saga of Marcus Didius Falco is an enjoyable romp from start to finish. It is set within Rome but has its genesis in one of the earlier stories about Falco's adventures in Germany. It is satisfying on so many levels, not only as a detective story (naturally) but also as an evoker of the sight, sounds and the smell of ancient Rome. Then there is the ongoing story of Falco, his lady Helena and their life together and his entire glorious extended family. It is a rare joy to read not just a book, but a series of them, where you can and do care what happens to every single character involved.

Read this book and all the others in the series and you will relish every single word.
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on 9 April 2013
Returning to Falco after a break of a couple of years I decided to pick up the saga with Saturnalia. A good choice. Here was Falco once again juggling family life and work but with the added hindrance of seasonal jollifications.....enough to stress any peace loving bloke! The story has many strands, and Lindsey Davis wove in a lot of information about medical practices and Saturnalia. Have things changed much over the millennia? Has man changed much? Not a lot I think.This is what makes this story particularly amusing and entertaining. The reader identifies with the age old dilemmas.......how do we keep everyone happy...or at least from each others throats....whilst still trying to earn a crust of bread without appearing to be a party pooper? Poor old Falco everyone seems to be out to make his life as complicated as possible. Needless to say Helena is there to bail him out when a mere man can proceed no further. An enjoyable read.
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on 5 June 2012
I've tried to read Lindsey Davies books before, and having ploughed my way through one of Ruth Downie's Ruso books, I'd thought I'd try again, after all it couldn't be worse. It was actually quite decent, an engaging story, the historical accuracy is hard to fault, and the unique use of the Vigiles was interesting [something Manda Scott made a complete hash of. My only [historical] grump here, is that yet another writer making a complete balls-up about Roman espionage. Why do writers insist on portraying Roman spies in a very Elizabethan way, mixed with a little MI5 intelligence unit. There was silly me, wondering why Titus wasn't making use of the cohort of Praetorian Speculatores on the other side of the city. Which leads me to another bugbear, just like Scott's Pantera, we are told that he is this great spy, but we never see it. All I saw was a private detective in the mould of Morse, Poirot and Rebus.

But I could have lived with that. What killed it for me was the modern colloquialism, and especially the Americanisms such as 'she looked cute.' Yuck. Now you don't have to tell me about Latin slang, I'm studying Ancient History and learning Latin, Roman slang and expletives are my favourite subject. The Romans where very colourful and fun with their slang, so why turn it into something so banal? It left me yearning for the Anglo-Saxon expletives of Simon Scarrow.

I do intend to read Davies' new book 'Master and God,' as I am interested in the subject, but apart from that I don't expect to read another.
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on 12 October 2007
While Ms Davis' early Falco books were intriguing and colourful, the last 4-7 books have increasingly focused on family bickering and dull household activity. This latest, Saturnalia, is a continuation of her slide into domesticity and drudge.

There is very little in the way of mystery here, very little in tradecraft or action. There is some coverage of what the feast time of Saturnalia was like in ancient Rome, but even this is often hurried over.

Sad, really.

I recommend the books of Simon Scarrow (excellent), Steven Saylor (very good), and the first ten or so books (very good) by Lindsey Davis.
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on 18 December 2009
Millions of readers will need no introduction to Marcus Didius Falco, streetwise but upwardly-mobile "private informer" in Rome during the time of the Flavian dynasty of emperors. Lindsay Davis's sleuth has starred in an extensive series of novels that have seen his personal, professional, and social development and introduced us to his culture and to an increasing range of friends, contacts, and enemies. The books are entertaining well-crafted stories that let the reader get to know the characters while learning something of the culture they live in, some aspects of it so like our own, some shockingly different.
This story is set during Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival, a time of parties, gift-giving, family dinners, family quarrels, general tumult and a growing wish for it all to be over. Falco has a potentially lucrative commission from the palace, to recapture an escaped state prisoner. The situation is complicated by the fact that the prisoner is a German priestess who has "a past" with both Falco and his brother-in-law/assistant who has also mysteriously disappeared...
Added to the mix are a death for which priestess may have been responsible, a clutch of mutually-antagonistic doctors, the usual palace politicos and unhelpful functionaries, a serial killer apparently targeting homeless people, family worries, and the traditional hassles of the "season of misrule", making a rich complex tale. It is by turns witty and entertaining and surprisingly dark, but it's always engrossing. Definitely one of the better Falcos.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2008
This the 18th Falco Novel by Lindsay Davis is as good as, if not better, than all the others. Davis writing continues to enthral and entertain, and Falco's antics have you wondering one minute and laughing out loud the next. The storyline revolves around one missing German woman and one brother/brother-in-law who has been kidnapped. It is the Saturnalia holiday and the whole of Rome has gone mad. getting up to antics that would get them arrested any other time of the year. This leads to a very entertaining story, and I would recommend anyone to read it.
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on 30 June 2015
This novel focuses the holiday period...Saturnalia... a king for the day..and lord of misrule...the murder being solved is to prove the innocence or otherwise of a character we came across in an earlier book. It is a lovely book. There is an amazing amount of background to the various medical professions practiced and the various deities of healing. Well crafted.
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