Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lindsey Davis's "Saturnalia"

Lindsey Davis is the author of 18 novels featuring Marcus Didius Falco (born AD41) as well as other works. The first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs, won the Authors' Club Best First Novel award in 1989; Davis has since won the Crimewriters' Association Dagger in the Library and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, while Falco has won the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.

Saturnalia, the eighteenth Falco novel, is already out in the U.K. and releases in the U.S. in May.

Does page 99 of Saturnalia "reveal the quality of the whole" to the reader, I asked the author, and would the browser who read that page be inclined to take up the book from the start?

Davis's answer:
Yes, I would read the book, but as we say here I would say that, wouldn't I? Does any author ever say no? (Shame on them if so; their self-editing must be terrible. Every page should grab you.) From which readers will gather my work freely raises speculation on all issues, and my professional standards are high.

In this page my hero, the Roman detective Falco, goes to see his mother when he is tired and has had a frustrating day. He finds his rival and bugbear Anacrites, the Chief Spy, tucking into food at his mother's table, almost certainly as a pretext for spying on Falco. They discuss the current case, in which they have been pitted against one another in a race against time. They are trying to find a missing foreigner whose presence in Rome poses such a great threat that the authorities don't want it known she is there. The conversation involves philosophical arguments about imperialism - who are the barbarians? and how far should a state abandon its principles for issues of security? Topical stuff, though I hope lightly done. There are nice clashes over bureaucracy. Falco shows us the eternally hopeless task of dealing with your mother. A curious aspect of Roman law features. There are hints of barely suppressed violence between the two men. And there is a final cliff-hanger as Falco demands that Anacrites hand over a prisoner:
'Better give him to me voluntarily.'

'Falco, I can't - '
Why not? What will Falco riposte? Will Falco ever get the man?.... You have to turn the page, don't you?

Yes, I'm proud of this.
Visit Lindsey Davis's comprehensive website and read an excerpt from Saturnalia.

--Marshal Zeringue