Marcus Didius Falco is a private informer and the protagonist of Lindsey Davis’s mystery series set in Ancient Rome. Emperor Vespasian has come into power and good imperial agents are required to hide royal crimes, curb corruption and sniff out political scandals. I first came across Falco and his exploits in ‘The Silver Pigs‘ where he accidentally falls upon an imperial minting fraud. The investigation kick starts with the death of a Senator’s young and impressionable niece . The story is not a murder mystery but more of a government backed investigation. Falco’s inquiry takes him into the desperate neighborhoods of Ancient Rome and across the channel to the edges of Roman empire in cold and dry Britannia. Nefarious plots to overthrow the Emperor are discovered and the investigation gets more bloody. Along the way we are introduced to a cast of characters that will continue to be central to Falco’s investigative efforts. There is Petronius Longus, an employee of Roman police force who is often the reluctant inside source for information for Falco. Helena Justina is the sharp and witty daughter of the Senator who predictably forms Falco’s love interest. She also brings some diversity into a vastly male cast of characters. Falco’s garrulous family makes several excursions only to add to the length of book and its feeble attempts at humor.
While there is a lot of fodder for a great novel ‘The Silver Pigs’ fails to deliver. The flaws are plenty, the biggest being the first person narrative. I believe Davis was inspired by the film noir detectives who presented their sordid lives to the viewers in their ironical, dry style. Falco tries but is never convincing. He tries too hard to push his intelligence, charm and wit down our throats. The first rule of writing is to show and not tell. Unfortunately with Falco, the story appears to be a really long monologue. All your impressions of people and places are made through his lens of humor and satire none of it which is funny. This becomes painful in fight sequences where Falco explains every motion of his body as he punches around thugs.
The other flaw is the meandering plot. It digresses so often that you read chapters and chapters without making any headway in the solving of the mystery. Fast paced these novels are not. Davis has clearly put in a lot of hours researching the minutiae of life in Rome. The writing is eager in describing every little detail of Roman architecture, culture and life. Only in some cases does it organically fit in with the story while in most cases it feels text bookish. One of my favorite descriptions of Rome are when Falco and his client, Helena, are on the run and escape into the by lanes of Rome at night.
The third flaw which I find the hardest to overcome is the writing itself. I know there is problem with the quality when I mentally start scratching off words and rewriting sentences as I read along. Dialogues are often accompanied with tone descriptions of ‘gasped’, half-grinned’, ‘said satirically’, ‘snapped’, ‘snapped back’ that it gets exhausting after a while to keep up with the emotions with each statement. It’s hard to point but there is something off about the writing in general. It’s too elaborate yet casual as if Davis is not able to find the right form representing the period. It reminded me of Amish Triphati’s ‘Shiva Trilogy’ and his struggle to keep the language relevant to the period of the novels set in ancient India .
I don’t know why but I still went ahead and bought a couple of books in the series from a bookstore near my house just to see if there was any progression in characters or writing. ‘Scandal Takes a Holiday‘ is a much later novel and the most useful thing I learnt from it was about piracy during Ancient Rome. More overly complicated and meandering plots and more inane writing.’Alexandria‘ is the only one that I enjoyed. It is actually a more traditional closed door murder mystery with a definite list of suspects and motives. The writing is more taut. The location is of course Alexandria, beautifully described but not overtly so. I would still make it 100 pages shorter!
I have only read only 3 of the dozen in the series and feel equipped to pronounce some sort of judgement. It may definitely cater to a certain type of reader and maybe even certain reading mood, but in a market inundated with murder mystery novels I think I am done with my experimentation with Falco and most definitely will not be reading another one.
….to make up for the dismal blogging year that this was for me. For all my ambition at the beginning of 2015 ( scroll down the page to see), I have written exactly 2 posts. It’s not that I did not have things to share – I did. I read a lot of good books, saw many interesting movies and TV shows – but writing hasn’t come easily to me.
Blogging is hard. It requires discipline, will power and most importantly – ideas. To blog daily would need absolute determination and endless supply of content. To blog a few times a month you need some few hours of quite and peace every week.
I have managed to do neither. What I am now attempting to do is to close this year respectfully with a few intelligent entries. And of course, my brain is in a funk and I find myself looking at a blank screen.
Writing after a break of six months is hard. Physically hard. I struggle with putting words together in a meaningful way. I have to rack my brain and look deep inside to find the right phrases.
I find myself asking questions – why should I do this? There are millions of blogs out there with better content and more readers than me. Why continue? Should I just shut this down?
Every time I ask myself – does it matter? My inner voice comes back with a resounding yes.
For me blogging has been extremely personal – a way to put my thoughts on paper and to make notes on passing time. A memorycatcher of sorts. The lesser I blog the more memories I lose. That’s why its important to keep trying.
Do you know why you want to blog?
Reading “Frederica” was one of the best things that I did this month. It satisfied the literary snob in me with its language and character development, but it also engaged the over-worked, hassled mom in me who doesn’t have the time for complex plots.
The Heyer novels specialize in Regency Romances and while they give an insight to Georgian lifestyles and fashions ( quite deliberate on the fashion!) they don’t intend to do more than entertain. The plot line is fairly simple and predictable – in this case a rich and arrogant Marquis has to undertake the guardianship of a precocious set of distant cousins.The eldest of the four cousins is Frederica, who though not as pretty as her younger sister, is charming,witty, clever and unpretentious. Extremely different from any sort of gold-diggers that Marquis is used to. Of course they are going to fall in love, but it’s how that happens is extremely entertaining with several laugh out loud plot lines. What also sets this apart that the real focus of the story is not the actual love story, but the relationships of all the characters. The Marquis relationships with his older,interfering sisters, Frederica’s dynamic with her siblings, the parallel sub-plots of other couplings and most interestingly the Marquis’ transformation from a careless bachelor into a family man who becomes a father-like figure to Frederica’s underage brothers.
As a feminist, I do have several issues with the way women are represented here – the dumb-blonde-beauty stereotype, the not-pretty-but-clever stereotype, the end-goal-of-women’s-life-is-marriage stereotype, the arrogant-masculine-jerk hero stereotype – but I won’t because I think it would be assuming that these books have a larger significance.
For the few hours that I poured over this book, I was successfully transported into the glamorous life of aristocratic England and that was a good diversion :)
Yet another year. Yet another fresh start. Yet another chance to make and break resolutions.
People often tell me that there is no point to new year resolutions as one rarely ever keep them.
I went back and looked at all the things that I wanted to do in 2014 and I have not completed any of them. But I made good progress – which is better than nothing. It’s good to have goals for a better, more fulfilling life. It’s perfectly okay if you don’t fulfill them. At least, you tried. Then there is always next year.
So these are my top 5 resolution for 2015
1. Buy a house – yup, that’s a biggie. Its scary too. All my energies and time are currently focused on that.Fingerscrossed
2. Year of the Classics – I intend to plough through Greek Classics and more this year. It seemed daunting at first, but halfway thru the Iliad and I am totally digging the bloody war.
3. Open a travel site – What?Another one? Why? All good questions and I don’t have the answers. I just want to do this for myself – a memory capsule of my travels shared in an (hopefully) intelligent way with the rest of the world
4. Blog more
5. Bake more
So, what is it that you want to do this year?
What would happen to your life if one day you come home and your wife has disappeared? Would you worry yourself to death? Or would you send a little prayer of thanks?
What would happen if your wife disappeared and it looks like you killed her? I bet you would be pretty desperate for her to be found.
That’s where Nick Dunne finds himself one day when he returns home to find his wife gone. (If you haven’t watched the movie, then I suggest you stop reading now and rent the DVD!). The cops are called in and find proof of foul play. While surprised by the careless attitude towards his wife’s disappearance, due to lack of evidence they hesitate to bring him in.
Meanwhile -where is Amy? More importantly, who is Amy? Through a series of flashbacks, narrated by Amy as parts of her journal, we get a peek into the Amy’s childhood that overshadowed by her fictional version, Amy and Nick’s early years of romance followed by a crumbling marriage.
In the present, police find holes in Nick’s stories and a trail of clues that convinces them that Amy’s disappearance was an inside job – as in the husband did it. Smiling Instagram pictures with a volunteer, having a mistress and generally not giving a shit about his wife don’t help his case.
Then the police find the golden ticket –Amy’s journal with the last sentence that literally states- ‘He is going to kill me’. A little convenient, don’t you think? I thought so too.
Seriously, if you haven’t watched the movie yet, stop reading now.
Amy was no ordinary mid-west house wife. She was a pretty, highly educated and accomplished city girl. She wasn’t going to stick around in an unhappy marriage that used up all her money. She wasn’t going to get cheated on. She was going to get even and how!
I wasn’t surprised that the elaborate set up was to frame Nick for the murder. What surprised me how Amy chose to punish Nick, or the other men before him. It was as if she was fighting thousands and thousands years of subjugation of wives all over the world. She also chose to punish men by falsely implying them in criminal acts that are most often true against women. She was beating them at their own game. In the end, sure she was a psycho bitch, but all those men, maybe deserved just a little bit of it. To call her a nut job would be over simplification.
Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, director’s David Fincher’s Gone Girl is a fascinating movie at so many levels. Of the bat, it’s a great who-dun-it. On the next it’s a fascinating psychological thriller with an extremely intriguing cast of characters. At a deeper level, it’s a commentary on mental, sexual and physical abuse in marriages presented through a distorting looking glass. There is no justifying the crimes that Amy commits but what’s horrific is that how easily true all her claims could have been. Gone Girl is also a commentary of the invasion of media into our lives and how critical it can be in determining one’s fate. Nick’s concern is not limited proving his innocence to the system, but also to the public. His wife is missing and he has to come on talk shows to explain himself.
Rosamund Pike has the right mix of vulnerability and steely determination to be Amy. She clearly overshadows the rest of the cast. Ben Affleck is ideal for the role of stone faced Nick. The tone of the movie is dark, even the early happy days in New York are shot in the cold winter. It’s not a happy movie, but it is extremely entertaining.
This Australian period drama is an example of perfect escapist television. It has great production quality, good acting and mostly engaging script.
The show is set in 1929 -10 years after the end of the Great War. The tone of the show is light and funny. The shadow of the war is subtle and adds to the dark corners of the show. No character passing through this world is left untouched by it. Feminism, gay rights and religion are also touched upon frequently – the show clearly leaning towards the liberal left. Almost all episodes pass the Bechdel test. The mysteries themselves are a hit and miss, though Season 2 has stronger plot lines.
Our incorrigible heroine is The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective. A single wealthy lady determined to pursue her passion for solving mysteries with a formidable team of domestic help and companions. Every good detective needs a little inside help from the police. DI Jack Robinson is Phryne’s friend, confidante and potential romantic interest.
Essie Davis does a pitch perfect job of portraying Phryne Fisher. She brings sass, style and intelligence to the role. She does look much older than the 29-something Miss Fisher of the books, on which the TV show is based, but I think that brings more credibility and gravitas to her character. Nathan Page does a fantastic job of an exasperated yet amused police inspector who works hard to keep Miss Fisher off his cases. His character, like Miss Fisher’s, is extremely modern for his time, and their mutual respect for each other contributes greatly in the actual solving of crimes. It’s also a relief to have a police inspector who is actually as intelligent as the main private eye. He is not a blundering idiot and adds valuable insight to the ‘detecting’ process.
The costumes of the show deserve a special mention as they help build the essence of the characters (also give Downton Abby a series run for the money!). Phryne has the silk and chiffon gowns, the fur hats and coats, which are just like her – flamboyant, stylish and fun. DI Robinson and Constable Collins possess the respectable working man brown suits and hats. Dorothy, Phryne’s companion and lady-in-waiting, has the chaste Catholic girl clothes of long skirts and oversized cardigans.
The show was cancelled after Season2 but due to the ruckus created by its loyal fans, it was brought back. Season 3 returns in 2015 – I will be waiting for it.