Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis (Century, 2004) is the 16th Falco novel, and I have, I must confess, read them all as they come out. I suspect that series novels like this are a form of addiction, you get used to the characters and just want more of the same. There is, now, a distinct sameness in the series. The set-up is always slow, you always spend the first several chapters just wishing she would get on with some story. Then there is the by now familiar way that various family members get themselves mixed up in the investigations, while the delectable Helena Justina is, of course, the most sensible person in the book coming up with key information at a crucial point. And the crime is, as much as anything, a guided tour of Roman archaeology. This latest book, for instance, is set in Ostia to allow Davis to take in some of the latest excavations there. Being a seaport, that means the plot has to revolve in some way about ships, hence this novel concerns pirates. You no longer start a Falco novel expecting anything in the way of surprises. But having said that, I still read them and will continue to read them. Maybe they are a form of comfort reading. Certainly I like the way she makes life in Vespasian’s Rome a lived experience rather than an observed one, by which I mean that although she is constantly stopping the action to describe some ritual or structure or way of life, the description is always a cynical observation by someone for whom these things are everyday, not something set out for an audience learning about it for the first time. After 16 books there is, of course, something a little routine in the way she does this, but because the description is always background to a plot rather than there for the sake of it, this Rome feels more real to me than it does in most other historical novels.
First published at Livejournal, 28 March 2005.