Davis, Lindsey 1949–
Davis, Lindsey 1949–
PERSONAL: Born 1949, in Birmingham, England. Education: Received English degree from Oxford University.
ADDRESSES: Home—Greenwich, England. Agent—St. Martin's Press, Attn: Publicity Dept., 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Writer. Formerly a civil servant; full-time writer.
MEMBER: Crime Writers' Association (former chair), Classical Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best First Novel Award, Authors' Club, 1989, for The Silver Pigs; Sherlock Award for best comic detective, 1991; Ellis Peters/British Crime Writers Award, 1999, for Two For the Lions; Dagger in the Library Award, Crime Writers' Association, for the author who has given the most pleasure.
The Silver Pigs, Crown (New York, NY), 1989.
Shadows in Bronze, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.
Venus in Copper, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.
The Iron Hand of Mars, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.
Poseidon's Gold, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.
Last Act in Palmyra, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Time to Depart, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
A Dying Light in Corduba, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The Course of Honor, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The Descent to Avernus, with Ticket Office, Classical Association (Sherborne, England), 1998.
Three Hands in the Fountain, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Two for the Lions, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
One Virgin Too Many, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Ode to a Banker, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2001.
A Body in the Bath House, Century (London, England), 2001.
The Jupiter Myth, Century (London, England), 2002.
The Accusers, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Scandal Takes a Holiday, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2004.
See Delphi and Die, Century (London, England), 2005, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of romance serials for Women's Realm.
Author's works have been translated into numerous languages.
ADAPTATIONS: The Silver Pigs was dramatized by BBC Radio.
SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning mystery writer Lindsey Davis grew up in the industrial city of Birmingham, England, studied English at Oxford University, and worked in the British civil service before making literature her full-time career. Her novels, which comprise a historical mystery series set in ancient Rome, reveal the author's thorough research into the history of first-century Europe. At the same time, however, Davis employs a contemporary sensibility to show just how much ancient Rome resembled modern times. Her books also reflect her appreciation for twentieth-century detective novels. Her protagonist, Marcus Didius Falco, an investigator who often works for the Emperor Vespasian, has been likened to the classic detective hero Sam Spade.
Falco speaks in a decidedly contemporary manner as he narrates his adventures as a hired informer, as well as his attempts to elevate his position in Roman society from plebeian to upper class, which will enable him to marry the more privileged and therefore legally forbidden Helena Justina. Readers were introduced to Falco and his amorata Helena in The Silver Pigs, a work that Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld said "combines a stylish twist with a lot of snappy humor." The plot draws Falco into a murder and fraud case requiring that he travel to Britain to work undercover in a silver mine. In the process, he meets and falls in love with Helena.
The second Falco installation, Shadows in Bronze, picks up the narrative thread dropped at the end of The Silver Pigs. It is, according to Ferelith Horden in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, "the longest of the Falco novels and possibly the least successful … the crowded canvas, the Latin names, and the unfamiliar settings do not make this book easy to read."
Davis continued the series with 1991's Venus in Copper, the story of Falco's efforts to unveil a seemingly professional bride who has buried three husbands and is courting a fourth. This book was described by Pat Dowell in the Washington Post Book World as "delectably funny"; the critic further noted that "Falco is an endearing rogue who provides a plebe's perspective on the grandeur that was Rome, thereby cheerfully vandalizing years of carefully instilled classroom awe."
The fourth Falco novel is The Iron Hand of Mars, in which Davis continues to give readers rich insight into the historical setting. Writing in the Armchair Detective, Jodi Lustig noted: "Davis never sacrifices her characters for the sake of making them more accessible …. Marcus and Helena are our windows into Vespasian's Rome…. to compromise them would be to compromise the period she renders so skillfully." A Publishers Weekly critic praised the author's "seamless blending of humor, history and adventure." Pam Spencer, writing in the School Library Journal, stated that "the rich historical details add a caloric layer of frosting."
Similar comments were made about Davis's subsequent novels, Poseidon's Gold and Last Act in Palmyra. These stories find Falco looking for his brother's killer and coming under suspicion himself, and then passing himself off as a playwright in order to solve yet another murder. According to a Publishers Weekly critic, Poseidon's Gold showed "a vividly realized Imperial Rome—noisy, dense and dangerous." A Library Journal contributor noted that "the mean streets of first-century Rome come alive." Donna Seaman in Booklist wrote that Poseidon's Gold was "a thoroughly enjoyable romp." A Publishers Weekly reviewer said of Last Act in Palmyra that "readers get a history lesson they may wish they had had in high school, all the while being treated to a polished narrative," and Pat Dowell, in the Washington Post Book World, praised the author's "hilariously good writing." However, a Kirkus Reviews critic commented that, for those readers who are not historians, the novel is more difficult.
Time to Depart finds Falco once again working for the emperor, trying to discover the roots of a crime wave in Rome. The story drew a mixed reaction from one Kirkus Reviews contributor, who commented that the book was "a treat, perhaps, for fans of the period. Heavy going for others." At the same time, however, Christopher Kelly noted in the Times Literary Supplement that while Davis's Rome was perhaps "sanitized," the book was "a racy, untaxing and enjoyable read." A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that "Davis, as usual, brings the time to life while handling the eternals—worry, danger, love and in-laws—just as deftly."
Throughout the series, Helena serves as Falco's sleuthing sidekick and love interest. In A Dying Light in Corduba, the couple's relationship takes a critical turn, as she becomes pregnant with his child. In this delicate condition, she accompanies Falco on a mission to squelch dirty dealings in the olive-oil trade. Writing for the Times Literary Supplement, Natasha Cooper found Davis's history-mystery mix to be wearing well in the eighth book in the series. She was impressed with the author's talent for "[writing] of scrolls, slaves, Jove and togas without absurdity … just as she has an ability to insert modern slang into her narrative without [seeming] anachronistic."
Davis took a slightly different approach to familiar material in The Course of Honor. This novel, set during the reigns of Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, centers on Caenis, a slave woman who becomes Vespasian's mistress. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the novel highly for its "unforget-table" depiction of its heroine—a little-known figure in history—and for the "meticulous detail and powerful drama" with which Davis presents Vespasian's rise to power. "These two strong characters," the reviewer concluded, "deserve to take their place in the pantheon of the world's great lovers."
Though some critics began to find Falco's cynicism a tad too dark by the tenth entry in the series, Two for the Lions, the book won the first Ellis Peters/British Crime Writers Award for historical mystery. This time around, Falco is supplementing his income with a side job tracking down tax evaders. A serial killer whom Falco had captured in the previous novel, Three Hands in the Fountain, is set to be executed by a lion, but when the lion is found stabbed to death, the sleuth's search for the guilty party takes him into the grim world of gladiatorial combat, with detours to Greece and Tripoli. "It's worked before," wrote Booklist reviewer Bill Ott, "and it works again."
In One Virgin Too Many, another Falco mystery, the plot concerns various aspects of Roman worship, including selection of a new vestal virgin—a process that a Publishers Weekly contributor noted seemed "like a children's beauty pageant straight out of the JonBenet Ramsey case." A mutilated corpse and the disappearance of one of the virgins provide Falco with plenty of entanglements to unravel. Though the Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that, in this book, Falco "doesn't have that true ring of a real Roman coin he once had," Library Journal contributor Barbara Hoffert wrote that "for sharply etched characters, wry humor, and a powerfully evoked Rome, this historical can't be beat."
Davis takes on the construction business in her thirteenth Falco mystery, A Body in the Bath House. The emperor's decision to build palaces for loyal barbarian rulers in their home colonies leads to Falco's investigation of labor scams in Britain, where he snoops around the building site of the Roman palace at Fishbourne, near Chichester (the ruins of which were not discovered until 1960, when a water main was constructed in the area). Justin Warshaw, in the Times Literary Supplement, praised Davis's lively incorporation of research about the Fishbourne site and about ancient building techniques, and also appreciated the novel's humorous elements. Though he faulted Davis for some overdone stylistic touches, Warshaw concluded that "she conjures up the ancient world with confidence, and contrives a plot as interesting as the best of modern detective fiction."
The Jupiter Myth finds Falco and an assortment of family members far away from Rome, in Londinium, snooping into a murder that appears to be your average bar brawl. The scenery is bleak in the Roman outpost, and the streets are crawling with unsavory types. Falco discovers that the dead man was a thug for King Togidubnus, who wants the murder solved post haste. He bumps into his old girlfriend Chloris, now a female gladiator, who offers up information to help with the investigation. A Kirkus Reviews contributor found Londinium to "provide a salutatory new venue" for Davis's sleuth. A writer for Publishers Weekly agreed with this assessment, appreciating how "Davis skillfully braids references to Britain's future into her story" and finding the book "thoroughly entertaining."
Corrupt lawyers, an inheritance up for grabs, and an apparently suicidal senator take center stage in The Accusers, which takes place after Falco returns from his sabbatical to London. Of course, where the Roman Senate is concerned, nothing is as it seems. Even Falco's brothers-in-law learn to give the informer a bit of slack when they begin to see just a bit of the troubles Falco has seen. Rex Klett, writing in the Library Journal, called the book "surprisingly affecting." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "Wry, cynical and principled, Falco makes the perfect guide to Davis's vividly realized ancient Rome."
The year is 76 AD in Scandal Takes a Holiday, and Infamia, the gossip columnist of the Roman Daily Gazette, has disappeared after supposedly embarking on a vacation to Ostia. Falco investigates. But he is soon drawn into a complicated maze involving pirates, kidnappers, funerals, and members of his own extended, meddling family. Falco exhibits his usual characteristics of intelligence, humor, and loyalty as he traverses the rough street life of ancient Rome. As with Davis's previous novels, the details could prove stifling to some readers. Booklist contributor Sue O'Brien praised the book's "sardonic humor" and "contemporary feel," which includes colloquialisms that would not be out of place in modern-day London.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1993, Jodi Lustig, p. 112.
Booklist, August, 1989, review of The Silver Pigs, p. 1948; October 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Poseidon's Gold, p. 241; December 1, 1997, Bill Ott, review of A Dying Light in Cordoba, p. 611; April 15, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Three Hands in the Fountain, p. 1471; September 15, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Two for the Lions, p. 236; May 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Silver Pigs, p. 1608; October 1, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of One Virgin Too Many, p. 326; September 1, 2004, Sue O'Brien, review of Scandal Takes a Holiday, p. 68.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1996, review of Last Act in Palmyra, p. 100; November 15, 1996, review of Time to Depart, p. 1634; July 15, 2003, review of The Jupiter Myth, p. 938.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Janet Julian, review of The Jupiter Myth, p. 54; May, 2005, Janet Julian, review of A Body in the Bathhouse, p. 50.
Library Journal, August, 1995, review of Poseidon's Gold, p. 148; November 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of A Dying Light in Cordoba, p. 120; September 1, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Two for the Lions, p. 237; September 1, 2000, Barbara Hoffert, review of One Virgin Too Many, p. 256; April 1, 2004, Rex Klett, review of The Accusers, p. 128.
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1993, review of The Iron Hand of Mars, p. 72; September 5, 1994, review of Poseidon's Gold, pp. 94-96; February 19, 1996, review of Last Act in Palmyra, pp. 207-208; November 10, 1997, review of A Dying Light in Cordoba, p. 58; August 3, 1998, review of The Course of Honor, p. 71; March 22, 1999, review of Three Hands in the Fountain, p. 74; December 6, 1999, review of Two for the Lions, p. 56; September 25, 2000, review of One Virgin Too Many, p. 90; August 11, 2003, review of The Jupiter Myth, p. 261; February 16, 2004, review of The Accusers, p. 154; July 12, 2004, review of Scandal Takes a Holiday, p. 47.
School Library Journal, March, 1994, Pam Spencer, review of The Iron Hand of Mars, p. 246; September, 1994, reviews of The Silver Pigs, Shadows in Bronze, Venus in Copper, and The Iron Hand of Mars, p. 152; September, 1999, Susan Salpini, review of Three Hands in the Fountain, p. 242.
Time, August 29, 2005, Johanna McGeary, "6 Detectives to Savor," p. 72.
Times Literary Supplement, June 23, 1995, Christopher Kelly, review of Time to Depart, p. 25; August 23, 1996, review of A Dying Light in Corduba, p. 24; June 29, 2001, Justin Warshaw, review of A Body in the Bath House, p. 24.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 19, 1992, review of Shadows in Bronze, p. 2.
Washington Post Book World, April 19, 1992, review of Venus in Copper, p. 8; February 18, 1996, review of Last Act in Palmyra, p. 8.
Lindsey Davis Official Web site, http://www.lindseydavis.co.uk (March 29, 2006).