Review: The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis

 When I was at university, I grew to love BBC iPlayer Radio.  Nothing quite like going over your lecture notes while listening to Radio 4 Extra.  Everyone has to have something to let their inner pensioner off the lease from time to time.  Hut 33, Old Harry’s Game and Revolting People are old friends although it’s Fags, Mags and Bags which makes me laugh until the tears come.  Still, sometimes comedy isn’t quite what you’re looking for. which is why there are also the equally awesome dramas.  It was BBC iPlayer that first made me fall in love with Brother Cadfael, but for a couple of months, my daily routine factored in my daily dose of Falco, the Roman informer and I felt quite sad when the series ended.

Several years previous to that, I had been given the fifth volume in the series, Poseidon’s Gold and had been more or less indifferent to it but the radio series had me hooked.  Part of this … most of this … was who they had reading the book – Anton Lesser.  I could listen to him read out a shopping list – he has a very calming voice.  It’s funny, he cropped up on Game of Thrones as most British actors seem to at some point or other, but somehow I still think that he’s best on the radio – strong and expressive voices are what makes radio drama engaging and he is truly one of the best.

Anyway, back to Falco.  I actually decided to read the source material recently and found myself strangely indifferent.  Marcus Didius Falco is the protagonist of the series and he takes us back to Roman times, he is an informer, meaning that he is hired to spy on potentially cheating spouses etc but his life becomes ever more complicated as he is hired by the Emperor to look into this or that.  In The Silver Pigs, he is wandering out of his apartment and a beautiful sixteen year-old girl blunders into him while fleeing her kidnappers.  Of course, he offers to help and of course, chaos ensues.

Anton Lesser – Best. Voice. Ever.

To be honest, my final thoughts on this book were still largely indifferent, just as they were when I read Poseidon’s Gold all those years ago.  Falco is kind of a blank.  Lindsey Davis has been candid during interviews about trying to create a detective character who was not the same as all of the usual hard-drinking loners that you get in your average crime fiction.  So, Falco has a large and unwieldy extended family with a mother and various sisters who regularly interfere and make sneery remarks over where they feel he is going wrong in his life.  Still, without any of the curmudgeonly edges of Rebus or the gentle humour of Cadfael, you end up with someone who has very few defining features.

He is also not a womaniser … sort of.  I actually found Falco quite an awkward character around women.  He is a man being written by a woman yet she makes him seem rather creepy and pervy, particularly around the sixteen year-old Sosia Camellina.  He never actually makes a move on her and he certainly does not seem like a character to force his attentions but all the same, all of that time gazing at her and commenting that it’s not safe for the two of them to be alone when she has come to him in fear of her life … it’s just a bit icky.

Anyway, it’s not a massive spoiler in The Silver Pigs to discover that poor little Sosia makes a bad end and then Falco spends the rest of the novel trying to avenge her.  Along the way, he meets her cousin Helena Justina.  And that’s where the real romance comes in.  The interplay between the two was what gave the radio series real verve.  I remember getting teary when they were grieving together in the second book.  Still, again, Falco as a romantic hero in print comes across as slightly sleazy.  I was glad that they had reached an understanding at the end of the novel, but I think that the way that Davis writes Falco’s desire for her lacked a focus to make it really work in print.  Of course, it could be me – I can be rather prudish and a lot of sleazy things tend to pass straight over my head.

The central mystery to The Silver Pigs was mildly interesting in explaining some of the inner workings of the Roman Empire.  Despite my fairly scatter-gun history geekery, the Roman period is one that I’ve never been wildly interested in.  I loved Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth – I spent my childhood in York so it seemed like a local legend – and for that reason I will not watch The Eagle because I know that they cast Channing Tatum as the lead and I know that that actor has approximately one and a half facial expressions on a good day.  I also am eagerly waiting for a book that my godmother wrote which will shortly be published in English.  And then on a lighter note, I am a big Asterix and Obelix fan.  But generally, it’s not an area that I read a great deal of non-fiction about so I can’t comment as to accuracy.  But the mystery of The Silver Pigs centres around smuggling and fraud … by the end of the book I was a bit switched off and was very much pelting for the finish line so I skimmed the finer details.  I think it’s fair to say that this book underwhelmed me.

So … I probably won’t be reading any more Falco … I wish him and Helena all the very best and I will continue to keep an eye on iPlayer to see if the series turns up again.  But with a TBR pile as large as mine and the prospect of getting a Kindle for an early Christmas present, I really think that I need to get ruthless. Anton Lesser, I think that you should be in every radio drama and also read out the news but without you, I find Falco not quite my cup of tea.

Rather short entry this one but I felt that I’ve rather neglected GWHHIAB this month and wanted to sneak in before it gets to December.  I wish everyone who reads this a happy St Andrews day!

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The Silver Pigs (Marcus Didius Falco, #1) by Lindsey Davis
Published by Pan Books Ltd on January 1st 1970
Pages: 258
Goodreads
ISBN: 0330311832


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4 thoughts on “Review: The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis

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