Wednesday, 29 December 2010

See Delphi and Die by Lindsay Davis

The same weekend that I read Relics of the Dead saw me racing through a comparatively recent instalment of the Falco mysteries, Lindsay Davis's splendid evocations of life under the Emperor Vespasian. See Delphi and Die takes Falco and his wife off on the tourist trail to investigate the unexplained deaths of two young women. We know of old that Falco is an indefatigable, if complaining, traveller, and it's easy to believe in the miseries of sea voyages, the poor food, the vermin and the infuriating tour guides as described by our narrator (if he's unreliable, he'd be quick to, point out that it's endemic to informers). His journeyings would, of course, be much more wretched without the redoubtable Helena Justina to smooth the way. This time the family party consists of Falco and his wife, their adopted daughter Albia, Falco's nephews Gaius and Cornelius and Young Glaucus, aspiring Olympic athlete. Oh, not forgetting Nux, the dog. The family are travelling light, but there's a wonderful passage in which the accoutrements of a Roman touring party are described: mattress overlays, cooking utensils, even food, logistics by the unappealing Phineus and Polystratus, efficient but increasingly unpleasant. One of Helena's brothers is also in Greece - you can't help feeling just a little sorry for Helena's mother, Julia Justa, who disapproves of Falco but has to see all her children suborned by him. Falco is frequently scathing about Helena's brothers, but I rather like them.

I think my favourite Falco novel is the one I am reading at the time, and See Delphi and Die is certainly up to Davis's usual high standard. She has certainly coloured my view of ancient Rome and its history, which is otherwise a compilation of bits of Pliny and Julius Caesar from school Latin lessons and Graves'  I, Claudius (or, as it seems to be known to all of us of a certain age, I, Clavdivs), with perhaps a less welcome addition of bits I can't erase from my mind from Satyricon (both book and film). There's slightly less poison around in Davis's version, which is restful, but there's always a diverting mix of pleasant and unpleasant people and, in the course of twenty books, some truly heart-stopping moments.

I complained recently about the lack of a map in an otherwise excellent book. We do, here, have a map of the Pelopponese, but the author informs us, rather severely, that maps of the various cities visited - Delphi, Athens, etc - are readily available elsewhere, and difficult to reproduce at a suitable scale. That's fine, I'm a reasonable person. I can accept that. How about a portrait of the dog instead?


  1. I love Lindsey Davis's books, I have all of them but haven't finished the latest one (Nemesis) yet. I think my favourites were Ode to a Banker and Last Act in Palmyra. Also liked the early ones like Shadows in Bronze. Such entertaining books!

  2. I liked this one, too. But then, I always enjoy Falco!