Monday, November 8, 2010

The Silver Pigs - Lindsey Davis

1989; 329 pages. Book #1 in the "Falco" series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : At least three. Overall Rating : 5½*/10.
Marcus Didius Falco is an informer (we'd call him a Private Investigator) in ancient Rome in 70 AD, who's always looking for a way to make some money. When he saves a damsel from a pair of thugs in the Forum, he escorts her home in the hope that protecting her is worth something.
It is. She is in possession of a silver ingot (the "silver pigs") and knows where a lot more are. By Jove, it's an emperor's trove! Ah, but those silver pigs are hotter than Mt. Vesuvius, and there are lots of bad guys who'll stop at nothing to get their booty back. Including killing anyone who gets in their way.
What's To Like...
The Silver Pigs is a Murder-Mystery. It's also Historical Fiction. It's also a Romance. It's all of the above. It's got wit and humor too, so one of these genres is bound to appeal to you. And if you like this first book, there are 19 more in the series.
There are kewl settings here - Rome, Britain, and Gaul. I particularly liked the chapters that took place in ancient Britain. Lindsey Davis has an easy-reading style, which makes The Silver Pigs feel less like "work" than, say, an Edith Pargeter or Mary Renault opus.
Kewl New Words...
Intaglio : a design or figure cut into stone or metal. Dozy : dopey; stupid (Britishism). Niffy : unpleasant-smelling (Britishism). Scrofulous : morally corrupt.
It was an ingot of lead. It weighed two hundred Roman pounds. I tried to explain once to a woman I knew, how heavy that was.
"Not a lot heavier than you. You're a tall girl, quite a solid piece. A bridegroom could just about heave you over his threshold and not lose his silly smile..." (pg. 49)
Vespasian's banquets were extremely old-fashioned; the waitresses kept their clothes on and he never poisoned the food. (pg. 197)
He had his eye on her laundry, that small but steady gold mine, but her own attention was riveted on his hefty real estate. Their lives together would be fortified by the keen nip of greed, as each prayed daily to their household gods that the other would die first.
Many marriages endure for decades on this healthy basis, so I wished her well. (pg. 258)
Ave atque vale.
I found The Silver Pigs to be okay, but not great. The murder-mystery solution seemed arbitrary and incomplete. The historical-fiction angle was particularly unsatisfying to me - there were simply too many inaccuracies - measurements in inches; knights wandering around; and worst of all, the mention of the chemical compound carbonate of soda. It's hard to say if this was shallow research, or if it was intentionally "modernized". Hey, Shakespeare put anachronisms in his plays too.
Then there's the romance. Simply put, there was too much of it to be in a book found in the mystery section of the bookstore. Lisa Jackson fooled me the same way years ago with Absolute Fear (see the review here), and I'll never pick up one of her books again.
So if you're into historical-romance or mystery-romance, you'll probably enjoy this book. OTOH, if the "R-Word" sends you fleeing to another aisle in the bookstore, you might want to give this one a pass. We'll give it 5½ stars for the wit, the engaging characters, and the ambitious blending of genres. And we'll wonder whether the subsequent books have more or less icky romance in them.


Julie said...

Wait a minute, hold on there - did I read that this book is also a....Romance? Wow! Super cool to read that in your review, Hamilcar. ;)
So, it wasn't your favorite book, I gather, but still the name Marcus Didius Falco seems pretty cool.
I also like the idea that it's a Murder-Mystery and Historical Fiction as well.
As always, a nicely done review! :)

Hamilcar Barca said...

heh. truth be told - i didn't know it was a Romance when i picked it up. i was intrigued by the idea of a mystery set in ancient Rome, and i work with someone named Mark Falco.

in fairness, it's a decent read if you happen to like a Romance thrown in with the other genres.