M Didius Falco is the hero of Lindsey Davis
' long-running series of detective
novels set in the ancient Roman Empire. First encountered in The Silver Pigs
he's an 'informer
' - a private eye
, in other words. He narrates his own
adventures in a style which begins as something of a pastiche
American gumshoe genre
, but develops into a distinctive form all its own
as the first book progresses. It's not just in the narrative style that Falco's
stereotypical sleuth image unravels. Most private detectives don't have a
domineering Italian mother, or anything resembling a detailed history.
Falco is a former solider, with a good classical education that's a little above
his working-class station. Brought up on the Aventine Hill
, one of the less
classy districts of the great City, he feels out of place beside some of those
he investigates, and early on in the series he has the inconvenience of his
position driven painfuly home to him. In the course of the series we learn more
about Falco's ancestry: his mother's family are market gardeners, and his
father's family - whom we never meet - are city traders. Both these elements,
like the classical education, prove very useful to a man who's paid to provide
Falco lives to an extent in the shadow of his elder brother, M Didius Festus,
who died in the Judaea
n War, some time before the first book begins. Festus is
viewed by all and sundry as the great impeccable war hero, and Falco knows he'll
never achieve the same kind of respect by staying alive that his brother gained
by getting killed. Falco also knows that there was another side to his brother,
which emerges in Poseidon's Gold
: Festus was a bit of a rascal, to put it
mildly. Not that this should be any surprise. Falco's father, estranged from his
mother, is an antiques dealer and auctioneer, and clearly the source of Festus'
roguish traits - and Falco's, of course. There is also a gaggle of Didius
sisters, whose involvements also feature in the series.
But the principal figure in Falco's life is introduced in the
, and it really would be spoiling the fun of that volume to go into
any kind of detail here. If you want to pick up hints, some of my reviews of
later volumes in the series inevitably give things away.
The Falco books to date (June 2002):
Falco won the 1999 Sherlock Award
for 'best comic detective'.