Monday, February 1, 2010

Review: Saturnalia

Saturnalia is the 18th book in the Marcus Didius Falco mystery series by Lindsey Davis.  This one takes place during the Saturnalia festival in Rome, the Season of Misrule when slaves are kings and kings are (supposedly) servants.  Falco is called to the Palace and learns that a German priestess, Veleda, who previously fought against the Roman Empire was brought to Rome to be paraded through the city as a prisoner before being killed.  She was lost by her keepers several days prior to the Palace calling Falco in.  Falco is asked to help find her because he saw her years ago while on a mission in Germany.

Meanwhile, his brother-in-law Justinus has gone missing and everyone believes that he is off with Veleda, with whom he had an affair prior to his marriage.  Justinus's wife is angry, his in-laws are annoyed and his beloved wife Helena Justina is upset with her brother.  As if that isn't enough, Falco's hated enemy, Anacrites, is also on Veleda's trail.  And there are a few too many homeless people turning up dead in Rome's streets for Falco to be entirely happy.

Once again, Lindsey Davis delivers an entertaining mystery novel.  Those who know my reading tastes know that I thoroughly enjoy this series, and I'm a bit sad that I'm almost completely caught up with it!  I don't read many mystery series, but I love this one.  Marcus Didius Falco is such a hilarious wise-cracker and his family life always makes me smile.  It has been great fun seeing him develop from a lonely and scruffy informer in the first books of this series to a now middle-class family man who works for the Emperor.  I really look forward to seeing him grow more as a character.

However, life for most people gets less fun as the responsibilities pile on and that's no different for Marcus.  He doesn't do all the chasing and the flirting and the drinking that he used to, and generally doesn't get into as much trouble as he used to.  He now has to pause and consider not only his own well-being, but that of his wife, his children, his dog, his adopted daughter and his slaves.  That makes it hard to be a truly dashing character.  And while I love Marcus and Helena's relationship, and I love Helena's character in general, I still miss the Falco of old.

I don't think that, generally, the later books in this series are as good as the earlier ones.  But I still thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in an ancient Rome where the people speak in dry tones, tell inappropriate jokes and make irreverent comments about the state of the Roman empire and religion.  I don't know why, but I find it hilarious to imagine people using Latin in such casual ways.  I know it's silly, as it was a commonly-used language for centuries, but I still am thoroughly amused by it.

And I guess that's why I really love Davis's series.  She brings to mind all the dust, the dirt and the hypocrisy of Rome in the first century instead of the empire we remember in such reverential tones.  I love her for that and I love this series for being so comfortable in its Roman skin.

15 comments:

  1. Love this series. I actually think the later books are more avriable than the earlier ones, in the begining all the books were consistently good but towards the currnet end of the series they can be brilliant or a bit dull. I miss the dashing Petronius more than Falco, he seemed ready to settle down while Petro just seems suicidally depressed in some of the books. Any plans to read Davies new, non-Roman novel?

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is the 18th book in the series and I have never heard of it. I wonder sometimes if I am secretly an ostrich with my head buried in the sand. Where do I start? What is the first book in the series?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jodie- When I think about your comment, I agree. The later ones are either great or just dull. I miss Petro, too. Mostly because I think Maia is a brat :-P

    Vivienne- The first book is called Silver Pigs. Worth checking out!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Love that she brings the dirt...ok that sounded so wrong but you know what I mean, lol. Not a big fan of mysteries, so nah not for me

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've actually never hear of this series. I love a good mystery so my have to see if the library has Silver Pigs sometime.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just love books that get you immersed into that time period. This sounds like a series I would enjoy too.

    BTW...I know you've said this before on here but where did you get your header? It is gorgeous beyond belief.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The setting alone makes me want to read this. I'm a newcomer to mysteries, but I've quickly come to realise that historical mysteries are some of my favourites - I'll definitely keep this series in mind. If it has the Aarti stamp of approval, I think I'd like it too :P

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's so cool that both of our reading has taken us to Rome in the past month! I did buy the first book in this series after I read how much you loved it, and I am really looking forward to getting the chance to read it! It sounds like the story and characters in this series have really matured over time, and that is a really awesome thing to have happen to a set of books that you love. Great review, I am glad that these books continue to impress.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Blodeuedd- Yes, the dirt ;-)

    Amanda- Yes, it's very fun and lighthearted. A great read for that mood! I emailed you about the header.

    Nymeth- It's so fun! So many wisecracks, which is very different than most historical mysteries.

    Zibilee- I noticed that, too! We're so on the same wavelength.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm not much familiar with Rome's past but this sure looks like a good series. Still, 18th book? Goodness :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. This reminds me of the HBO show Rome, which I enjoyed. I am not familiar with this series but you make it sound so good. I'll have to look for the first book.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lightheaded- Yes, it's a long one! I can't believe it's THAT long and still going!

    Literary Feline- It is actually much lighter than the HBO series. Many more wisecracks than political power moves. And set much later. But in the same empire :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Every time I see the name Marcus Didius Falco I immediately think of Falco of 80s rock fame. I just can't help but to invent new versions of his songs with amazingly geeky Roman inspired lyrics.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I too just heard of this series a few weeks ago. MUST check it out. You all make it sound irresistible.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I re-read the first three books last year when I was home on holiday and realised how well written the books are. Davis' description of Rome is that of a living, breathing city and her characters are adorable. And I always forget just how funny she is. I can't wait for her next book.

    ReplyDelete

I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.