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  Some men are born lucky, others are called Didius Falco.


Central character and narrator of the Historical Fiction novels by Lindsey Davis. Falco is an "informer" (the equivalent of a private eye) in Ancient Rome around A.D. 70. Reviewers describe Marcus Didius Falco as "Sam Spade in a Toga", but existing centuries before Noir was invented makes Falco amusingly Genre Blind, and allows the author to gleefully subvert most Hardboiled Detective tropes. The series follows Falco as he takes on a series of cases, often in far-off provinces, and slowly climbs his way up the social ladder- while dealing with anal-retentive bureaucrats, foreign officials, his various siblings, and other hindering bastards. These, in turn, make the books a mix of historical fiction, crime, and comedy that blend in a very satisfying way.

The series runs as follows:

  1. The Silver Pigs (1989)
  2. Shadows In Bronze (1990)
  3. Venus In Copper (1991)
  4. The Iron Hand Of Mars (1992)
  5. Poseidon's Gold (1993)
  6. Last Act In Palmyra (1994)
  7. Time To Depart (1995)
  8. A Dying Light In Corduba (1996)
  9. Three Hands In The Fountain (1997)
  10. Two For The Lions (1998)
  11. One Virgin Too Many (1999)
  12. Ode To A Banker (2000)
  13. A Body In The Bath House (2001)
  14. The Jupiter Myth (2002)
  15. The Accusers (2003)
  16. Scandal Takes A Holiday (2004)
  17. See Delphi And Die (2005)
  18. Saturnalia (2007)
  19. Alexandria (2009)
  20. Nemesis (2010)

And its almost-prequel, The Course Of Honour (1998)



Tropes present in this series include:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Rome's Cloaca Maxima, which is just about as Squick as it sounds.
  • Asshole Victim - Happens from time to time, but particularly obvious in Ode to a Banker with Chryssipus. also, after his head injury makes him ever more unstable, Anacrites is this until Falco and Petro are forced to kill him.
  • Batman Gambit: After twenty books, Falco knows exactly how to make Anacrites dance to his tune.
  • Big Bad: Florius. Also (probably) Anacrites.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Falco's relatives. See The Clan.
  • Black Widow: Professional widow Severina Zotica in "Venus in Copper".
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "You look like a spy." "I thought I looked like a priest." "Falco, you look like a spy who's disguised as a priest!"
  • Brick Joke: In Venus In Copper, Falco ends up acquiring a talking parrot who belonged to a suspect. He asks Helena to write down anything the parrot (called Chloe) says, in case she says something relevant to his case. Helena annotates the list of things Chloe said and asks if 'manicure set' is a euphemism, since Chloe also said another euphemism and several obscenities. Falco tells her that if 'manicure set' is a euphemism, he doesn't know it. Late in the novel, he ends up talking to Thalia the animal handler, who before talking to him is telling a bawdy story in which she describes one man's privates as resembling a 'three-piece manicure set'...
  • The Caligula: Averted with Emperor Vespasian, who is very competent and completely lacking in pretension.
  • Call Back: Falco disposes of Helena's treasonous uncle's corpse by throwing it into a sewer. He and Petro later do the same for Anacrites' corpse.
  • Casanova: Petro.
  • The Clan: Falco's family. They may all be crazy, but you do not mess with them. Set up as a deliberate counterpoint to Anacrites in Nemesis.
  • Cult: Christians who seduce young middle-class idiots into worshipping only one God (how boring) and solicit donations from travellers who have to beat them up to convince them to mind their own business. Plus they don't respect the Emperor (neither does Falco of course, but he doesn't piss him off by saying so in public).
  • A Day in the Limelight: The Course Of Honour stars Vespasian and his mistress, Antonia's freedwoman Caenis, who later turns up in Two For The Lions.
  • Dead Little Sister: Falco is still upset over the death of his brother Festus, and he never really got over it- he says in one early novel that he's still expecting a message for him that says that Festus has just got off the boat from the latest war and he's brought some friends who he needs to find rooms for and he needs some money to cover the wine bill, thanks very much...
  • Deadpan Snarker: Falco, Petro
  • Decoy Protagonist: The beginning of The Silver Pigs makes it look like Sosia will be another protagonist with Falco. She gets killed off rather quickly. The other protagonist is her cousin, Helena Justina.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Helena Justina, the patrician daughter of a senator, and therefore two ranks above Falco (a plebeian). The two fall in love in "The Silver Pigs", and a constant theme of later novels is Falco trying to advance his social status so he can legitimise their relationship.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Two thousand years separate us from the people in the book, and to modern eyes some of their behaviour can seem inhumane and just plain strange. To her credit, the author doesn't play it for shock value, but rather as a natural part of life in Rome.
  • Disappeared Dad: Falco has a grudge against his father (and redheads) because his dad ran off with another woman when Falco was a child. He later comes back into Falco's life under the guise of shady auctioneer Geminus.
  • Downer Ending: These often happen- life doesn't fix itself just because the crimes get solved.
  • Dramatis Personae: The author says she does it because Roman names follow such similar patterns that she gets confused herself. Done tongue-in-cheek in "Last Act in Palmyra", in which Falco joins a travelling theatre troupe.
  • Evil Counterpart: Anacrites to Falco.
  • First-Person Smartass: Falco spends a lot of time rotting in wineshops and giving lengthy, unflattering descriptions of everyone he meets. However never having read Raymond Chandler, he doesn't know that private eyes are supposed to be loners. "Honest, legate!"
  • Friend on the Force: Falco's best friend, Petronius, is a member of the Vigiles (primarily these were fireman; policing was a secondary role, and yes the Author knows this).
  • Freudian Excuse: Anacrites was forcibly removed from his family as a young boy and made to grow up among slaves. He eventually comes to really envy Falco for his tight-knit family, as screwed up as they are.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Florius starts off as a harmless equestrian, the son of a ruthless gangster- and once the gangster is dead, he takes his place and rises in the Underworld, becoming a feared figure in no time who nearly kills Petro.
  • The Fun in Funeral: The funeral of the pirate Theopompus in Scandal Takes a Holiday is an undignified affair from the beginning, but after his murderers are identified at the funeral it lapses into farce when two entire gangs of pirates begin to beat seven kinds of shit out of each other, while the vigiles lounge around eating the finger food, waiting for them to finish so the survivors can be arrested.
  • Gladiator Games/Bread and Circuses: "Two for the Lions"
  • Hardboiled Detective: in the early novels more than in the later ones, after he settled down.
  • Heroic BSOD: Falco had one after seeing the aftermath of the Boudiccan Revolt as a young man, as a result, he and Petro faked medical problems to get out of the army.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Falco and Petro, his best friend, who was in the army with him.
  • Honor Before Reason: Falco rejects a social promotion at the end of "The Silver Pigs", as it's an obvious bribe for keeping quiet about a political scandal. Falco then realises he's thrown away the chance to marry Helena legally and changes his mind, but by then Vespasian has withdrawn his offer.
  • In the Blood: Everyone fears this of Aelianus- he admits to admiring and liking his uncle, who disappeared. In addition, Aelianus is bored, constantly shafted by everyone else, and in a very volatile position. His uncle, a hedonistic layabout, committed treason and was killed for it. More than a few people fear that if given the opportunity, Aelianus might do the same.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In "The Iron Hand of Mars" Falco discovers that Helena is being courted by the Emperor's son Titus. Falco knows she doesn't love Titus, but out of a belated sense of patriotism -- and feeling that he can't stand in the way of her getting such a tremendous social advancement -- urges Helena to accept. Helena calmly responds that she's already turned Titus down.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: "The Silver Pigs" being followed by "Shadows in Bronze", "Venus in Copper", "The Iron Hand of Mars" and "Poseidon's Gold". At which point Lindsey Davis ran out of metals that were known to the Romans and sounded promising in a title. Titles after that follow no particular pattern, though several riff on a well-known phrase (e.g "Three Hands in the Fountain"). "Three Hands" is also the first in a trio of books with numerically-themed titles: "Three Hands in the Fountain", "Two for the Lions" and "One Virgin Too Many".
  • It Will Never Catch On: Falco writes a play, "The Spook Who Spoke", with a plot remarkably similar to Hamlet. The actor he describes it to instantly rejects the idea, as ghosts don't speak in plays. On another occasion Falco encounters a Gaulish cook which he finds ridiculous, as that country will never be famous for good food.
    • In "Alexandria" the inventor Heron mentions his aeolipile (wind ball, a steam engine - and yes, it was a real invention) which Helena Justina suggests could be used as a form of propulsion to move vehicles. Heron laughs at this and says his invention is merely a toy, "who would need it?" (although he also points out the difficulty making a strong enough boiler for a larger version).
  • Just for Pun: The very title of Ode to a Banker.
  • Karma Houdini: Anacrites got out of how many situations in the end?
  • Killed Off for Real: Anacrites, Famia and Geminus.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The fight at the end of Two For The Lions, while not intentional, ends with Fidelis, Saturnius, Calliopus and Scilla all dead, and Anacrites nearly dead, thus neatly killing off nearly everyone responsible for the events of the book.
  • New Old Flame: The oft-mentioned "Tripolantian rope-dancer", that Falco was carrying on with before the events of the first novel, finally makes an appearance in "The Jupiter Myth".
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Smug Snake Anacrites the Chief Spy, and Falco's rival.
  • Oh My Gods: A given in Rome's polytheist society (though they usually just say "Gods"). Variations include using specific gods, usually relevant to the situation (i.e. "Juno Moneta!" if you were financially screwed). More earthy characters use "Balls" or (Marcus' favourite) "Cobnuts".
  • Old Shame: Falco and Petro were both in the army at the same time, and they served in Legio 2 Augusta/the Second Augusta, the infamous legion whose leader refused to fight against Boudicca. As a result, Falco has to be very careful about saying what legion he was in to certain people, whom he knows will take it the wrong way.
    • Also, early on in the series Falco disposes of the corpse of Justinus, Aelianus and Helena's uncle at the behest of the Emperor. True, their father actually dealt the death-blow, but the manner in which he had to dispose of the rotting body is something he has never discussed openly, and he was worried that he would find the body itself in the sewer in Three Hands.
  • Only Sane Man: Petro amongst the vigiles (firemen/policemen - see Friend on the Force above)
  • Red Shirt: Linus, one of Petronius' crew we're introduced to in Time to Depart. He exists to get killed by Balbinus.
  • Running Gag: People calling other people bastards. Someone gets called a bastard about once every five pages.
  • Serial Killer: "Three Hands in the Fountain" involves the search for a killer of women who strikes during festivals, dumping their dismembered bodies in Rome's formidable aqueduct system.
  • Shout-Out: In one novel, Falco strikes up a conversation with a group of Judean refugees who offer him a commission to retrieve one of their holy relics. At first, Falco is afraid that they want him to "Raid" the treasures brought back after the Roman conquest. However, they then tell Falco that they want him to look for a "Lost Ark." Falco demurs, and tells that someone more of a daredevil then he would have to perform that particular quest...
  • Shown Their Work: Davis explores Roman life in detail, including some areas that are little known such as the olive oil industry ("A Dying Light in Corduba"), art dealing ("Poseidon's Gold"), real estate and the nouveau-riche ("Venus in Copper"), finance and vanity publishing ("Ode to a Banker"), Vestal Virgins and other cults (One Virgin Too Many), and the legal profession ("The Accusers").
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Aelianus is shafted from a religious order he wants to join because of his uncle's involvement in treason.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Time To Depart
  • Wham! Line: "It's my brother-in-law." Famia was dead.
    • "Antonia Caenis is recently passed away."
    • 'I turned the bone and read the name: LINUS.'
    • 'On it were the initials T FL DOM- Titus Flavius Domitian, Vespasian's younger son.'
      • In addition: '...and stabbed her through the heart, with his pen. He was right, Sosia Camillina could not have expected that.'
    • "So who will she name next, Timosthenes?"
    • 'We had found Statianus.'
    • 'There is another person we know whose eyes are of the same colours: Anacrites.'
    • "That's not Maia!"
    • "Then, I had no doubt, Scilla had grabbed a spear and followed the lion into the garden. She had killed Leonidas herself."
  • What Could Have Been: Falco muses over the possibility of becoming Sosia Camillina's lover and instantly discounts it.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Petro sleeps around a lot. It eventually destroys his marriage.
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