Marilag's Reviews > The Silver Pigs

The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
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Dec 21, 09

bookshelves: mystery, historical

Learning about the past was never my strong point. Years of labour in history classes did nothing to inspire me. Perhaps it was my strong dislike for repetitive topics covered for years on end, or the manner teachers conveyed the subject matter; regardless, I was never a fan of history, and I never thought I could be. When I came across Lindsey Davis’s novels, they immediately grabbed my attention and sparked something in me that I believed I would never feel involving anything historical: interest.

The Silver Pigs is an anachronistic, yet believable tale of an “informer”—a detective in the ancient Roman era—living in the Aventine sector during the time of Vespasian Augustus’ reign (70 C.E.). The book is the first of the Marcus Didius Falco series created by Lindsey Davis, a popular author of historical whodunnits.

Unlike the well-known detectives portrayed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Carolyn Keene, Davis’s protagonist, Falco, is nothing short of a poor, crude, and rather sarcastic Roman citizen with an eye for beautiful women. Falco is dashing even with a rough edge to him, and he certainly knows how to please his “prey”.

Although a sub-par informer, Falco becomes entangled with the dark secrets of the Camillus family after encountering the graceful and evanescent Sosia Camillina (who becomes his new “client”). From Sosia, he discovers that rich senators are concealing the smuggling of “silver pigs”—ingots of pure silver worth millions in the market—from Britain. Possessing these ingots is conspiratorial, since they can be used in an attempt to dethrone the current emperor. After the discovery of the “pigs”, a series of events unfold, leading to the untimely death of one of Falco’s loved ones. Instead of quitting as advised by his closest friend, Falco pushes onwards and into Britain, in search of the truth behind these silver pigs, as well as a dish far more delectable: revenge.

The different characters interact believably and animatedly with each other in Falco’s narration. Falco’s mind is not a blank slate—though he describes his surroundings and records his observations of other characters, he is still capable of conveying his own opinions regarding each matter. Davis’ forte is that she depicts a man who can be a romantic at times and a hardened soldier at others. The readers do not forget that Falco has survived a war and has lost a loved one; the scars he attained on a cold winter in Britain and the loss of his brother are repeated themes in the book.

A second strong point Pigs contains is the creation of various female characters that have entered Falco’s life. There are “Aglaia” (the women subjects of his poetry); his loving but highly suspicious mother; Lenia, the curvaceous and doting washing woman; and beautiful Sosia with her young naïveté. One cannot forget Helena Justina, the 23-year-old divorcee, with a mind to match Falco’s own, a sharp tongue, and a sense of justice so high it impresses even Falco, who finds deceit a common trait in women. The interactions between Falco and Helena are some of the most meaningful displays of dialogue, as both characters go from a hateful relationship to at least a tolerable one.

With a mix of the history behind the time period and politics playing out in the background, readers will find that the characters of Pigs are part of a much bigger plot in the Roman Empire. However, they will discover that even Falco, the poor informer of the Aventine sector, has ways of affecting political results.

Overall, The Silver Pigs is a highly recommended read; the writing style is an entertaining combination of antiquity and modernity, infusing Ancient Rome with contemporary allusions, evident throughout Falco’s narration. If you pick it up, you might even be willing enough to read the next book of the series, Shadows in Bronze!
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