This is the series that started it all (for me). I always loved ancient Rome (since I first read Asterix), and detective stories. This was the perfect combination. I came across it almost by accident, picking up a battered copy of book 4 (Iron hand of Mars) at a used books stall. I then went back to read the rest of the series from the start, carried on reading such authors as Steven Saylor and Ruth Downie, and was even prompted to start writing my own Roman-era inspired fantasy-detective stories.
Below are my thoughts of the series as a whole. Notes on individual books were posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
What I liked
Falco starts a classic hard-boiled detective. These are noir whodunit murder mysteries, with the expected plot twists and turns as Falco continues to uncover new information. As the series progresses, Falco gets to travel around and explore different facets and geographical regions of the Roman empire.
Dealing with anyone from the dregs of Roman society to the emperor himself, we are exposed via Davis’ meticulous research to what 1st century Rome must have been like on a daily basis. This research is a shining example in historical fiction, and a standard with which to measure others.
Falco’s personal life also plays a large part of the series, as sub-plots interweave and help Davis both with the main plot and in examining and describing life in Rome. Characters in general are mostly fleshed out and realised quite well (which is often a matter of taste anyway).
As can be expected in a 20 book series, there is some variance in quality. Generally speaking, the first half of the series has a lot of energy and momentum, but that seems to slow down in the second half. Some characters and plots may be a bit over-the-top, or simplistic, or just miss the mark. Davis tries different tacks, and personal reader tastes vary.
Each story is a different case. The continuity lies with Falco’s personal life between novels (each one normally starts a few weeks after the last case finished). It’s not strictly necessary to read them all in order (especially if you care more for the mysteries and history than Falco’s personal life), but I’m a bit OCD for reading in written order.
Some of the kindle edition books also seem to have been run through OCR from the print, and are plagued with annoying typos. (I’m not usually one to complain about this – but it was really negligent on the part of the publisher looking for a quick conversion to ebook format).
If you like historical mysteries and ancient Rome, this series is a must read. Though the later books meander somewhat and are less memorable than those at the start, I felt rewarded for sticking with the series throughout.
I’ve also left reviews for each individual volume in the series on both Amazon and Goodreads. These summarise my recollections and impressions of each book – though of course I’d recommend you just pick up the first one, and then see where it takes you.