Sunday, July 24, 2011

Musings: Alexandria

Alexandria is the nineteenth novel in Lindsey Davis' mystery series set in the 1st century Roman empire, starring Marcus Didius Falco and his growing family.

This time, Falco is in Alexandria, Egypt, home of the famed library.  Unfortunately, the head librarian turns up dead in a room locked from the outside and Falco is forced to look into the situation. The head librarian job is a big deal in Alexandria, and there are many who want a chance at it, even if it means murdering other candidates.  But with Falco on the job, you know you're in for a treat, and a funny one at that!

I have read and reviewed every Falco mystery on this blog, so I don't think I will be convincing anyone to read this series with this review if I haven't already managed it!  I love Falco- I love how cynical he is, but how he also is so upset by the corruption around him, and he's always willing to help someone out.  He's such a great character, and I've really enjoyed getting to know him so well over the past nineteen books.  (And there's a twentieth out, too!)

What I most enjoyed about this book were the great details about the library at Alexandria.  I think we now consider it this hallowed place where so much knowledge was kept and ultimately destroyed.  I know I have spent time before thinking of all the history and culture and mythology we're missing out on by not having access to so many of the stories that were kept at Alexandria.  But by doing that, we forget that the library was a bustling place with the same intrigues and difficulties most places have.  This book is really quite timely, as it discusses whether libraries should house all books or just the ones people read, whether classics are better to have than popular fiction, how many books the library should hold, etc.  If you're a librarian, I think you would  appreciate the discussion as I'm sure Davis wrote it with today's many library debates in mind!  It cost a lot of money to upkeep a library of Alexandria's size, and if you believe Lindsey Davis, that led to a lot of fraud and scandal.

I generally prefer Falco at home in Rome because I really like his friend Petronius Longus.  While I really don't like his mother or his sisters at all, I think they add a lot of humor to the stories.  Falco's dad was in this one, but barely had a part in it.  And I admit some parts of the Falco series are starting to wear on me.  Falco spends a lot of time talking about how great his relationship with his wife Helena Justina is.  He says this in every book and by now, I just want to say, "WE GET IT, FALCO!"  I suppose if you're a new reader, knowing just how strong their relationship is is important, but after 19 books of making eyes, I just wish it wasn't discussed so much.

This wasn't one of my favorite Falco outings, but I think it has sentimental value for me only because from what I know, the next book in the series, Nemesis, is much darker and probably will start leading Falco and Helena down a less carefree and happy path.  So maybe Davis shares all the details of their marriage with us in this book so we can compare how different it is in the next book.  I'm still sticking with this series, regardless.  At this point, it's less about the mysteries and much more about the character development.


  1. Hi Aarti,
    I'm a librarian, and am completely in agreement with you re the debate about libraries in Alexandria in this novel. Surprisingly relevant to the modern world. Not altogether surprising though as Lindsay Davis was writing it at a time when libraries in the UK were (are!) in the firing line for cuts.
    Have you read Stephen Saylor's "The judgement of Caesar"?, another novel set in ancient Alexandria, but much darker in tone.

  2. If I were to read one of these, which is your favorite of the series?

  3. Anonymous7/25/2011

    I love this series too and am sad that it's finished. Sniff. And I'm with you regarding Petronius Longus!

  4. Book-hound - No, I've never read Saylor, but perhaps when I finish with Falco, I'll give him a go.

    rhapsody - Oh, gosh! Quite honestly, most of them run together for me. But I would recommend starting with the first one (which is quite good, I feel) and seeing if you want to continue as I prefer the early ones to the later ones.

    chasingbawa - I didn't know that Nemesis was the last one, but it's quite possible you're right. Quite honestly, I don't mind. I think we've had a lot of Falco and Helena and Petro, and I can imagine that Davis is tired of writing about them.

  5. Well, since your previous reviews of these books made me curious enough to grab the first few in this series, I don't think you have to worry about this review convincing me! I have been reading your Falco reviews for some time now, and really need to dig out the first in this series and start with it. Part of the reason I have hesitated is that sometimes when I start a series I tend to want to gobble them all up in quick order, and I am not sure what would happen if I did that here! I am glad that you liked this one, and that this series is such a comfort read for you. Maybe it can be for me too.

  6. I have been curious about this series for a while, but I haven't read anything from it yet. The size is a bit daunting!

  7. Aarti - I haven't read this series yet but your description of the library is tempting me greatly! In fact, it's now on hold for me at my library.

  8. Oh no, a series of nineteen good books, a series I knew nothing about...right, it seems I have plenty to catch up. Thanks, have I mentioned I love your reviews? I think not. Ok, now officially you know it. :)

  9. I have never heard of this series -- I think I need to check it out. Thanks for the review!

  10. Nineteen books in the series and you've read them all: impressive! I've been trying to "catch up" on series reading this year and your loyalty to this one inspires me!

  11. I've yet to get to this one, although I've got Nemesis on the shelves. Your description of this one reminds me of recent Terry Partchett books, where the author's focus shifts to critiquing a specific, current political situation through the activities of characters in a different world. I like those books of TP's but not as much as I like the earlier, broader stuff that takes a wider look at humanity and society and not sure how I'll feel about this shift of Davis' (although libraries!). Have you read her new Civil War novel (I've been so blog absent I might have missed your thoughts)? I'm not sure whether to read that next in my Davis reading, or go with Nemesis, or go back to her one off Roman romance title...

  12. Jodie, yes I think Davis is definitely using the Falco series to make commentary on modern issues. I actually like the Pratchett books that do that, though I am not a HUGE fan of the Davis ones that do so. I haven't read her Rebels & Traitors about the Civil War yet, and I know she has another non-Falco book coming out next. I don't know if she is writing any more Falco, ever, actually, so maybe you can save Nemesis for a while :-)

    I also have her Roman Romance, but haven't read it yet. I could do a buddy read of it!


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