The Accusers - Lindsey Davis

The Accusers
Lindsey Davis
Century Publishers
ISBN: 0712625569 (Amazon link)

I feel obligated to open with a comment about how a series has no right to still be readable when it gets to the fifteenth volume! Still, I've already made that comment about Davis' Falco novels in the past, so I'll just cross my fingers and hope I get to keep on saying it for a long time to come.

Lindsey Davis' Falco series started off as something of a comedy, a series of entertaining hard-boiled detective adventures incongruously set in Imperial Rome. Somewhere along the way the series matured along with Falco (now a respectable family man), and an author I used to regard as a light snack between Steven Saylor novels has somehow managed to have me almost sobbing at the thought of catching up with her publishing schedule...

The Accusers finds Falco back home in Rome, finally, directly after the events of The Jupiter Myth. He needs to re-establish his presence quickly to build his old business back up again, and so Falco & Associates takes on some minor work for a prosecutor called Silius Italicus, who is dragging a senator called Rubirius Metellus into court for abuse of office - a very serious offence in a society build around the notion of esteem through public service.

One minor problem though, Metellus commits suicide to avoid payment - a well known solution to his problems under Roman law. Silius Italicus is far from happy with this situation, as he loses his reward, and pretty soon, as you expect, Falco gets dragged into a complicated little affair involving incest, murder, scandal - the usual.

The Accusers is yet another a historical crime novel, yet another familiar Falco outing - written with flair, and very entertaining, yes, but surely still more of the same, so why do I think this series is still improving? Well, the premise for one. Something has grown to annoy me slightly about the Falco novels, as the series matured and the characters gained depth and life of their own, Falco's profession remained anachronistic. I Am Not A Historian (in fact, I don't even play one on television), but as far as I know, 'private eyes' don't really have an analogue in Republican or Imperial Rome, neither of which had a judicial system which we would recognise. Typically, 'informer' would be a label applied to a rather different, and often pretty despicable, creature - a lawyer in a system which rewards lawyers for their stage skills, sorry, I mean oratory skills, a system in which a lawyer stands to gain the rank and possessions of anyone he successfully accuses of a crime. Say Orator and we think of Cicero, but more usually informers were notorious scandal mongers, and their activities rarely had anything to do with the law, and even more rarely anything to do with justice. (Particularly true when we're talking about informers' activities under a regime like Sulla's!)

There is a downside to prosecuting of course, lose the case and you stand to lose much in return for accusing a person of rank (and why would you prosecute someone of no wealth or power?). The Accusers then is the novel where Davis tries to retcon her hero's role into something more historically recognisable, and further, uses the fascinating Roman legal system to drive the plot, with interesting and entertaining results. Thinking about it, this is pretty much given away by the first line, which probably reflects the author's opinion as much as Falco's:
"I had been an informer for over a decade when I finally learned what the job entailed."

[ Update: a visit to the author's website confirms this! Here's what Lindsey Davis says about this title: "This is the one where, after 15 years of writing about informers, I read a book that told me what informers really did."]

The other reason I feel that the series is still growing is that Davis' authorial style is still changing. In The Accusers the focus is more intimate, with less physical adventuring by Falco, and very little of the soap opera that is the domestic life of Falco's friends and family. A few comments here and there serve to keep those long-running plot threads alive - Petronius and Maia feature, Anacrites pops up, Ma still has her boyfriend - but for most of the novel the key characters are Falco & Associates, the senatorial family under investigation, and the rival prosecutors conducting the related court cases. Within this tighter framework, Davis experiments with the prose styles - several sections are presented as formal reports from Falco & Associates to various prosecutors. I'm not sure if I would be comfortable seeing this device used repeatedly, but it made a welcome change. Rather more entertaining is the similar presentation of several of Falco's debut speeches... For my money, what both of these novel styles of presentation really proved was that Davis' strength lies in her normal prose, with the narrator Falco being a wonderfully rounded delivery mechanism for the story. Oh, yes, the story. It's a whodunnit as much as a courtroom drama, so I'm not saying anything for fear of spoiling your enjoyment, except that the resolution is very satisfying, and there are plenty of surprises along the way.

Here's how I closed my coments on the previous Falco novel, The Jupiter Myth:
"If you are going to read the 14th in a series, you obviously like that series, and probably just need reassured that the quality hasn't slipped. Having me tell you that The Jupiter Myth is great is probably completely unnecessary, but I'm going to do it anyway. The Jupiter Myth is great."

Here's how I'm closing this post: The Jupiter Myth is great, The Accusers is better.

Posted: Wed - October 1, 2003 at 01:04 AM