Falco, the Official Companion, is the last book (maybe) in the Marcus Didius Falco series. The author has recently completed two novels in the Flavia Alba series -The heroine is Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, who has grown from a troubled teenager to a feisty widow and who is an investigator in her own right. Meanwhile, this book, Falco, the Official Companion is chock full of interesting information about Falco’s Rome.
Rome, AD 77 AD, two years before the eruption of Vesuvius – best known for its eruption of AD 79 that led to the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Some say Nemesis is the Avenging Angel; the retribution of the Gods for the sin of hubris, arrogance, under heaven. Others say Nemesis is the Arch-enemy, an antagonist who stands out from the rogues gallery. Thus, Falco and Petro are faced with an undiscovered nemesis, patron of rather odd cultic murders, until the pieces fall into place.
March 2009; I have found a copy of Alexandria, and just finished reading it. Delighted. A review will appear here soon.
Before publication, I was doing a search for new Falco websites (I found Microsoft’s Powerset, which appears to be a Wikipedia enhancement) (some enhancement…. ) when lo—and—behold, I found Alexandria in the search results. Random House had put up a taster and the blurb. Well, now that the proper book cover is available, I have refreshed it with the correct book cover.
It is the Season of Misrule in Rome, sheer misery for Falco. Uppity slaves give orders to their cringing masters, masters try to hide in their studies, women are goosed, statues wobble, a prince has a broken heart, Helena’s brother will not decide if his heart is broken or not, children are sick and even the dog can’t stand it any more.
Through his brother-in-law Aulus, Falco hears details of two young Roman women who have died in Greece while seeing the sights of the ancient world. Falco and his wife, Helena, travel to Greece to meet up with the tour party which included one of the women, seeking clues to her murder, passing through Olympia, Corinth, Delphi and the oracle of Trophonius at Lebadeia before finally arriving at Athens.
Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina travel to Ostia Antica, ostensibly on holiday. However, Falco is forced to confess to Petronius – present there on secondment – that he is in fact investigating the disappearance of Infamia, the pen name of the scribe who writes the gossip column for the Daily Gazette. He is at first believed to be merely a drunken truant, however investigations uncover some murky secrets.
All Rome reads this and eagerly awaits its publication. People love defamation.
Fresh from his trip to Britannia, Marcus Didius Falco needs to re-establish himself back in Rome. A minor role in the trial of a senator entangles him in the machinations of two lawyers: Silus Italicus and Paccius Africanus, both ex-consuls with notorious reputations.
Rome, Autumn AD 75. Falco reflects on informers in general:
I had been an informer for over a decade when I finally learned what the job entailed.
There were no surprises. I knew how society viewed us: lowborn hangers-on, upstarts too impatient for honest careers, or corrupt nobles. The lowest grade was proudly occupied by me, Marcus Didius Falco, son of the utterly plebeian rogue Didius Favonius, heir to nothing and possessing only nobodies for ancestors. My most famous colleagues worked in the Senate and were themselves senators. In popular thought we were all parasites, bent on destroying respectable men.
Londinium, Britannia in August AD 75. Falco reflects on his role in the greater scheme of things:
Hilaris was the important one here. He was the procurator of finance in Britain. To put it in perspective, I was a procurator myself but my role—which involved theoretical oversight of the Sacred Geese of Juno—was one of a hundred thousand meaningless honours handed out by the Emperor when he owed someone a favour and was too mean to pay in cash. Vespasian reckoned my services had cost enough, so he settled up remaining debts with a joke. That was me: Marcus Didius Falco, The Imperial Clown.
Rome. Novomagius, Britannia, AD75. Falco (the spy who came in from the cold) is in cold, cold, cold Old Britannia, with memories to boot. It was here that he first met Helena Justina.
Falco arrives at Fishbourne and starts by investigating corrupt practices. However events quickly take a turn for the worse when the Chief Architect is found murdered in the bath-house of the British King. Falco takes over the project and investigates the killings.
Rome. July – August AD 74. Falco is to give a poetry recital with Rutilus Gallicus, and Caesar Domitain is expected. Aurelius Chrysippus, a wealthy Greek banker and vanity publisher, introduces the event and is found dead the next day. With Rubellus absent, and the vigiles busy, Petro hires Faco to resolve the murder.
Families and backgrounds, past history and present day relationships inform many parts of this narrative, both in Falco’s family and Chrysippus’s family; Chrysippus had divorced and remarried. His first wife still operated their bank with a freedman, one Lucrio.
Falco has just returned from Palmyra; Petro is expelling Balbinus Pius (a master criminal) from Rome. Falco tags along at Petro’s request to witness the expulsion. Afterwards, Petro will aid Falco in transporting Geminus’s glass shipment to the Emporium, the landing place sea freight.
AD72, and Anacrites has ducked a fact-gathering mission for Vespasian, and sends Falco … whom he promptly betrays to a camel driver (Falco’s pseudonym for a nabataean chief minister) before he departs. Ah, this enmity between Anacrites and Falco. Will it ever end?
The scene is Petra, Nabataea, an independent kingdom and trade centre which somewhat liberally taxes goods en route and so attractive to Roma as a trading partner and future annexure to the Empire. Falco and Helena Justina are on a fact gathering mission for Vespasian. Falco has other reasons – he is on the lookout for a missing water organist, one Sophrona. He’ll be paid if he finds his quarry.
March-April, AD72, our man Falco is back in Rome, complete from his mission for the Emperor Vespasian in Germania. It is evening in Rome, cold and wet, and the sixth-floor flat on the Aventine has been broken into and occupied by squatters. Pigeons have taken advantage of the hole in the roofing, and of course, the rain is dripping through … Falco, Helena Justina and the six year old ward, Augustinilla, cannot bed down for the night. Off to Ma’s where Falco finds the centurion Censorinus (of his late brother’s Legion) in residence, awaiting his arrival. Censorinus is given the order of the boot into the pouring rain; Falco suggests he may obtain lodging at Flora’s, the local caupona, an inn where wine and ready dressed provisions are sold. There might be rooms available upstairs, suggests Falco.
Roman history in Europe provides the setting for Falco and his tasks in this novel. Germany is three: Germania Superior, Germania Libera, and Germania Inferior. During this era of the novels, Rome has provinces, governors, legions and forts dotted all over what we now call Europe. But it was not without clashing of steel, conflict, battles and rebellions.
This novel focuses on events in the region of Germania Superior and Germania Libera, with the Rhine River being somewhat a line of demarcation between civilisation and barbarity. The swathe of territory traversed scopes from Arles to Vienna, Lugdunum (Lyon) to Argentoratum (Strasbourg), and on up via Morguntiacum (Mainz), Castrum ad Confluentes (Koblenz), Bonna (Bonn), Agrippinensium (Cologne), Novaesium (Neuss), and to Vitera, (Xanten), an unusually named town which still holds this name today, along with an archaeological park full of restored Roman Artefacts.
In Venus in Copper, Falco is exposed to corruption in Rome. Well, Rome was corrupt, anyway, say many, and some would not enter Rome without fear and trembling. Others chanted the Gayatri Mantra for protection. Corruption, you ask? Just look at the property and real estate industry … houses burn, houses fall down, houses are under multiple mortgages. There has been no change, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So we venture carefully into Venus in Copper, wherein Falco meets landlords and their thugs.
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