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Lindsey Davis

Silver Pigs
Crown, 1989
Barnes & Noble


Those who prefer characters in a Roman historical novel to sound like translations from Livy will not get far into the prose of the narrator, the wise-cracking, womanizing yet romantic M Didius Falco, a private i (informer) hired to uncover a plot against the new Emperor Vespasian in this vigorous account of murder and intrigue in the mean streets and stately homes of Rome and the back-breaking silver mines of Britain in 70-71 AD. But the dust-jacket description of the novel as combining "the wry humor of a modern gumshoe novel with the fascinating backdrop of ancient Roman politics" to produce "a funny, romantic, and enthralling adventure" is on the money for me. The vivid and varied characters come from all ranks - thug and washerwoman, neighborhood watch and Praetorian guard, senatorial and imperial families, enabling Davis to present a wide range of social attitudes and settings. The wealth of background material is generally well-researched, though there are some doubtful (but minor) details, e.g. stabbing someone through the heart with a pen (not a stylus, since it was being used with ink). But the account of Falco's neighbor washerwoman collecting urine for her vats is informative, Falco and his high-born girl-friend ducking through the lewd show in a brothel to escape pursuers is hilarious, and the near-amputation in a legionary hospital is dramatic reading. The story moves quickly, with lots of action and changes of location. The dialogue is witty, the character of the Chandleresque narrator well-defined. The thoughts, attitudes, and actions of the characters sound modern, but parallels exist to Petronius (reasonable, given the date of the setting), Apuleius and Juvenal. A lay reader will learn much, often just in passing (imperial triumphs, military procedure, inns, illegal water-main tapping) and might move on to real Roman material - literary or historical. A good bet for a Roman civ optional reading if it comes out in a trade paperback.[as it has] [Mench; CW 84.5]

- Fred Mench, 11/25/2005

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