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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis

Genre: Historical Mystery

Take Sam Spade and drop him into ancient Rome.  Add the seamy underbelly of Rome in the first century.  Then give him a messy family life. And you have Lindsey Davis's main character Marcus Didius Falco.

Falco is a paid informant, the first century equivalent of a gumshoe.  He gets paid (occasionally) to ask questions and investigate.  Sometimes he works for private citizens, sometimes he works for the Watch and occasionally he works for the Emperor himself.

Falco has a great, big, noisy family.  His parents have been divorced for years.  They refuse to communicate with each other. His two sisters and mother are in everyone's business.  His wife, Helena,  is the daughter of a senator.  Falco and his wife have a daughter, and another child on the way.  They live in a tenement, but are trying to get their "money pit" house finished.

Falco sometimes dabbles in writing poetry.  When he is asked to do a public reading, he gets noticed by a publisher.  Unfortunately, the publisher is murdered right after meeting with Falco.  Falco's best friend happens to be a leader of the Watch.  He ropes Falco into investigating the murder.

Meanwhile, back at home, the Emperor's chief spy may be sweet on Falco's Ma, or his sister, or perhaps both.  His Pa is devastated by the death of his long-time female companion/business partner.  Pa needs help keeping his books and running his business.  Of course, it's up to Falco to attempt to solve this family dilemma.

Falco questions possible suspects, untangles family squabbles and tries not to get himself killed.  In the end, the mystery gets solved and the family issues are smoothed over (for now). As Helena says at the end of the novel, tomorrow is another day!

I always enjoy reading a Falco novel.  Many authors of historical fiction portray the past in an idealistic light.  Davis portrays a realistic ancient Rome: temples, brothels,  mansions and slums.  Davis's characters are realistic as well.  Falco has to manage his professional affairs and his family responsibilities simultaneously.  Just like real life.

If you enjoy a well plotted mystery novel with fully developed characters, then give Falco and his family a read.

The first book of the Falco series, The Silver Pigs, is also a great read.

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