The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

I love historical mysteries but have never felt drawn to Lindsey Davis’ Falco series as the setting – Ancient Rome – is not one of my favourites. Recently, though, I have discovered a few books set in Rome that I’ve enjoyed and have been open to reading more, so I thought I would give the first book, The Silver Pigs, a try. When I noticed that my library had the first four in the series available to download as audiobooks, I decided that as I was stepping slightly out of my comfort zone anyway with the Roman setting, I may as well step out of it completely with a format I usually avoid.

Audiobooks tend not to work for me because I find that my attention wanders more easily when I’m listening to a book than it does when I’m reading it on paper, but I did my best to concentrate on this one and was mostly successful. It is read by the British actor Christian Rodska and although I wasn’t sure about his voice at first (he sounded too old for the thirty-year-old Falco) I changed my mind after a while and decided that his voice was well suited to the down to earth, humorous style of the writing.

The novel opens in the year 70 AD with an encounter between our narrator, ‘private informer’ Marcus Didius Falco, and a young woman who is being chased through the Forum. After helping her to escape from her pursuers, Falco learns that the girl’s name is Sosia Camillina and that she is the niece of a powerful senator. It seems that Sosia has become embroiled in a conspiracy involving a secret stockpile of silver ingots (known as ‘silver pigs’) – a conspiracy which could pose a threat to the rule of the Emperor Vespasian.

To find out who is behind the plot, Falco is sent to the silver mines of Britannia, something he is less than thrilled about because Britannia is a cold, miserable place in winter. During his time there he meets the senator’s daughter Helena Justina, Sosia’s cousin, an intelligent, opinionated young woman to whom Falco takes an instant dislike – and the feeling is mutual. Given the job of escorting her back to Rome, Falco is unsure which task will give him more trouble: solving the mystery of the silver pigs or dealing with Helena!

As I’ve said, Ancient Rome is not one of my usual subjects when it comes to reading historical fiction, so this was an educational read for me as well as an entertaining one. Knowing that Lindsey Davis seems to be highly regarded for her research and accuracy, I could trust that what I was learning was correct (apparently since the book was first published in 1989 new evidence emerged showing that the description she gives of the process used in the formation of silver pigs may not be accurate, but that’s just proof of how our knowledge of history is still changing and evolving).

I wasn’t sure what to think of Falco as a character; I found him a bit off-putting in the opening chapters where his first thought on seeing sixteen-year-old Sosia Camillina is that she’s ‘wearing far too many clothes’ and then, when she tells him she’s not married, he thinks ‘she looked like a person who soon should be’. As I read on, though, I found that he is maybe not quite the sophisticated womaniser he wants us to think he is, but a young man who is trying to get out from under the thumb of his domineering mother and the shadow of his late brother, the military hero Didius Festus, and who is a beloved uncle to his little niece Marcia.

The mystery itself didn’t really interest me, to the point where I started to lose track of what was happening towards the end, although that could have been partly because, as I’ve mentioned, I find it harder to concentrate on the spoken word than the written word. This is the first book in the series, though, so it’s possible that some of the later ones have stronger plots. I will try the second one, but probably in traditional book format rather than audiobook.

Since I finished The Silver Pigs, it has been announced that there are plans for a new adaptation of the Falco novels by ITV and Mammoth Screen, so it seems I have chosen a good time to start reading them!

18 thoughts on “The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

  1. Melita says:

    I have trouble with audiobooks too and only occasionally will listen to a book I’ve already read!

    I like the Falco series quite a bit but the book that really got me in the beginning was Venus in Copper (#3). The series does bring in some long running threads involving various relatives. I can’t remember any details of the mysteries. I’m more likely to remember some tidbit like plant that prevented pregnancy but was already extinct in Roman times.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with audiobooks! I’ll continue with the series at least as far as book 3, then. It sounds as though they are books to be enjoyed more for the setting and historical details than the mysteries.

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    Most of what I know about ancient Rome I learned from Will Durant’s history book, Caesar and Christ. I think reading a mystery set there would be great fun. I would read the book because I cannot follow an audio book at all and in fact tend to fall asleep. It was bold of you to try the format though.

    • Helen says:

      You probably know more about Ancient Rome than I do, Judy! It has just never interested me as much as slightly more recent periods. I did enjoy this book, though, and will continue the series – but probably not in audio format!

  3. Pam Thomas says:

    I love the Falco books, I have them all in hardback, and a first edition of The Silver Pigs is one of my most prized possessions. I love the dry humour – even the cast list always raises a chuckle – and Falco himself, much more likeable and vulnerable than he appears on the surface, is a great character – as is the formidable Helena and, later in the series, Nux the dog. I also enjoy the spin-off series featuring Albia, Falco’s daughter, adopted as an orphan in Britain. As Mary Beard has pointed out, in many ways the ancient Romans were remarkably like us – and then you get brought up short by something that reminds you that in many other ways, they seem completely alien.
    Incidentally, I love audio books, but I listen to them in the car – I have a half hour commute to work and they enliven the journey no end! (current pick – ‘The Legacy’ by Katherine Webb)

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad the audio book format works for you; I did try listening to this one during my own commute, but there were too many times when I found myself thinking about work instead. As I said in my review, I wasn’t sure about Falco at first, but I had warmed to him by the end of the book and will look forward to getting to know him better – and to meeting Nux the dog!

  4. piningforthewest says:

    I just know that I would find myself losing concentration while listening to an audio book – and probably end up thinking about what I was going to cook for dinner the next day!

  5. cirtnecce says:

    I quite used to enjoy Falco books without loving them; they were a good friday night read; but that was in another time and place. Also I read the later books, which I think may be a bit more sophisticated that the first one in the series. And I agree, the research is absolutely meticulous…I am still to develop the patience for audiobooks!

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t love this one, but it was good enough to make me want to read more. Maybe the later ones are better – I will try more of them and find out.

  6. Silvia says:

    I agree, I love audios, but at times, concentration can be a challenge. Some work better than others. I do love Rome, but I confess I don’t read much historical novels. A TV adaptation sounds interesting too.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad it’s not just me who finds audiobooks difficult to concentrate on at times. Maybe I should have tried a shorter, less complex book than this one.

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