ALEXANDRIA by Lindsey Davis

Book Quote:

“So in there,” I mused, “is all the knowledge in the world?”

“You bet, Falco.”

“The greatest scholars alive today gather to read there?”

“Best minds in the world.”

“Plus a dead man.”

“At least one,'”answered Aulus, with a grin. “Half the readers look embalmed. There could be other stiffs that nobody has noticed yet.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew (MAY 12, 2009)

Marcus Didius Falco’s eighteen previous escapades took him, when he wasn’t at home in Rome, to Naples, Capua, and outward to Greece, Spain, Germany, and Britain. This time, in the Spring of A.D. 77, ¬†he and his family arrive in Egypt to see the Pyramids at Giza. But first they sail from Rhodes to the city Alexander the Great built, where they’ll stay a while¬†with¬†Falco’s Uncle Fulvius. Alexandria beckons them¬†with the huge landmark, the famed¬†Lighthouse. To welcome their guests, Fulvius and his partner throw a dinner party, and among the¬†invited is the Librarian of the Great Library of the Alexandria Museion, a man who seems¬†burdened.¬†Not long afterward, Falco is summoned to a mysterious locked-door death at¬†the library, and soon he is appointed by the Prefect to investigate.

In the course of 338 pages, he and his lovely wife, Helena Justina, meet the¬†anticipated parade of possible suspects and uncover various shenanigans that might be motives for murder.¬†As¬†Falco tries to unravel the political jockeying and the shady dealings at the Museion and in Alexandria at large, he becomes acquainted with¬†Philadelphion, the Zoo Keeper; Nicanor,¬†a lawyer; Zenon, Chief Astronomer; Diogenes, an enterprising businessman;¬†Katutis, a street watcher; and Roxana, a women desired by many. Falco, his wife, their two young “poppets,” and their 17-year-old adopted¬†daughter also have encounters with a few choice animals, including a gnu, a python, and Sobek, a very large Nile crocodile.

The good private “informer” must, once again conduct interviews, gather evidence, and try to¬†sort through who did what to whom. Meanwhile Falco’s Pa¬†surprises them, library scrolls¬†disappear, one of the zoo animals escapes, and the body count rises. And, of course, Falco doesn’t have to settle for merely¬†spying the Lighthouse across thick fog from a passing vessel. He gets¬†to see it up close and personal —¬†in a very impromptu, very heart-pounding way.¬†Uh, perhaps he would have preferred a sedate, organized¬†group tour….

As always, author Lindsey Davis creates¬†the¬†Vespasian Roman Empire¬†which Falco serves¬†using faithful and vividly described¬†historical research. Then she overlays that with¬†a decidedly modern twist¬†on character behavior and psychology.¬†Hers are¬†people with¬†21st century speech and outlooks. They, in turn,¬†are¬†packaged in¬†a conventional mystery structure to which we are accustomed. Then everything is¬†bonded with¬†doses of satire, irony, and archness. Falco’s observations about his Empire might as easily be ones we could make about our¬†society, our institutions,¬†our mores.¬†He straddles the time continuum, in a sense, and he does¬†it with endearing aplomb.

Alexandria is a better adventure than the previous volume in the Falco series,¬†Saturnalia, methinks. Perhaps it is the exotic locale, and the¬†renowned Library and Lighthouse (one of the Seven Wonders of the World)¬†brought expertly into existence again.¬†The book’s helpful map of this old city¬†includes a note that the coastline and the position of the monuments¬†had to be¬†conjectured. Earthquakes¬†destroyed much of ancient Alexandria and silt from the Nile altered the coastline. But Davis offers the reader¬†a¬†delightful chance to plausibly “see” what¬†the city was like, geographically and atmospherically, back then.

This mystery itself involved me more¬†too.¬†Extensive¬†numbers of wily characters and their¬†multiplicitous intrigues can¬†be confusing and wearying in the mystery genre at large and, sometimes,¬†even in those centering on Falco.¬†However, rare was the page where my attention drifted in¬†Alexandria. The¬†story gallops along, making a pleasant mockery of chapter endings as good¬†places to rest the¬†eyes and jab in a¬†bookmark. Cliffhangers¬†and tantalizing hints demand another page…and another.

I’m already looking¬†forward to the next in the Falco series which reportedly will be entitled¬†Nemesis. In the meantime,¬†homage to¬†Alexandria.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books (May 12, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Didius Falco books reviewed…


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May 12, 2009 ¬∑ Judi Clark ¬∑ No Comments
Tags: , ,  ¬∑ Posted in: Facing History, Sleuths Series, y Award Winning Author

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