From the Publisher
“The mystery is intricately plotted, the characters are well drawn, and Falco is as engaging a protagonist as ever, still tough but wiser and more reflective, too. Another winner for historical mystery fans.” Library Journal
“The twisty plot with its various false leads and the author's plausible depiction of ancient Alexandria make this one of the stronger entries in this solid historical series.” School Library Journal
“The period detail is interesting; the characters, both main and secondary, are fully fleshed out.” School Library Journal
A locked-room murder provides Marcus Didius Falco with an intriguing challenge in Davis's 19th novel to feature the first-century Roman sleuth (after 2007's Saturnalia). In the spring of A.D. 77, while on vacation with his family in Alexandria, Egypt, Falco is stunned to get word that Theon, the Great Library's head librarian, with whom he just dined, has been found dead with neither marks of violence on the body nor evidence of how the killer got away from the scene of the crime. Falco probes the academic politics surrounding the Great Library to determine whether one of Theon's potential successors was the culprit. Other deaths follow, including that of a philosophy student, mauled by a crocodile that escaped from the local zoo. While the impossible crime's solution may disappoint some readers, the twisty plot with its various false leads and the author's plausible depiction of ancient Alexandria make this one of the stronger entries in this solid historical series. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Even spies age, but fortunately Marcus Didius Falco-"informer" for the Roman emperor in the first century C.E.-is aging with grace. What makes Davis's long-standing series so indelible is the expert blend of Falco's wisecracking observations and crazy family life with some masterly suspense. In this latest, Falco has taken his pregnant wife, two daughters, and brother-in-law to Alexandria on what is ostensibly a vacation. (They're staying at the house of his wayward uncle and the uncle's partner.) In fact, Falco is charged with keeping his eye on things, and indeed trouble brews right away-the Librarian of Alexandria's great library is found dead in his sealed office. There's been plenty of controversy surrounding the Librarian already, and the controversy over who will succeed him turns bloody. Who knew that the race for a top library spot could be so intriguing? The mystery is intricately plotted, the characters are well drawn, and Falco is as engaging a protagonist as ever, still tough but wiser and more reflective, too. Another winner for historical mystery fans. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ1/09.]
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—This is the 17th entry in Davis's popular series about a Roman private "informer" (read private investigator). He normally works for the emperor, but while on vacation in Egypt with his family, Falco is pressed into service as the lead investigator in a high-profile case. The head librarian at Alexandria has been found dead, and all indications suggest murder. The mystery is of the cozy whodunit type with plenty of false trails and suspects galore, clever repartee, and layers of motives to dig through. The setting is lush first-century Egypt, and the period detail is interesting; the characters, both main and secondary, are fully fleshed out. There are some odd notes, such as Falco's offhand references to forensic techniques far ahead of his time and his modern attitude toward his wife, which can be distracting. A very large cast of recurring characters with numerous variations on their names makes this a difficult book to read as a stand-alone, but it should be popular in libraries that have mystery lovers or Falco devotees.—Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI
The 19th adventure of Marcus Didius Falco, the Roman imperial agent and informer (Saturnalia, 2007, etc.), takes him to Alexandria in 77 CE. Falco has nothing on his mind but sightseeing in the colonies with his pregnant wife and rambunctious daughters, but their arrival at his uncle's home in Egypt is almost instantly marred by that ruin of any vacation, the tedious dinner guest. The librarian is so ill-tempered that it's a relief when he turns up dead in a hackneyed locked-room setup. As Falco investigates, he learns that the politics of the famed Library of Alexandria are just as petty as those of any modern academic analogue. The grasping lawyer, the silent astronomer, the equivocating philosopher, the practical zoologist and the public-minded curator are all competing for the dead man's position in a corrupt bureaucracy. Beset by every manner of distraction from dancing girls to crocodiles to his own incorrigible father, Falco still finds himself more and more deeply immersed in the scholars' schemes. Though others solve the puzzles of the substance that killed the librarian and how the door came to be locked, and Falco grossly misjudges the character of the murderer, his failures ruffle his smug sense of self-satisfaction not at all. Like watching a slideshow of vacation photos narrated by your most pompous relative-predictable, condescending and cliched.
Read an Excerpt
Egypt: Spring AD 77
They say you can see the Lighthouse from thirty miles away. Not in the day, you can’t. Still, it kept the youngsters quiet, precariously balancing on the ship’s rail while they looked for it. When travelling with children, always keep a little game in hand for those last troublesome moments at the end of a long journey.
We adults stood close by, wrapped up in cloaks against the breeze and ready to dive in if little Julia and Favonia accidentally plunged overboard. To add to our anxiety, we could see all the crew making urgent attempts to work out where we were as we approached the long, low, famously featureless coastline of Egypt, with its numerous shoals, currents, rocky outcrops, suddenly shifting winds and difficult lack of landmarks. We were passengers on a large cargo boat that was making its first lumbering trip south this season; indications were that over the winter everyone had forgotten how to do this journey. The dour captain was frantically taking soundings and looking for silt in seawater samples to tell him he was near the Nile. Since the Nile delta was absolutely enormous, I hoped he was not such a poor navigator he had missed it. Our sailing from Rhodes had not filled me with faith. I thought I could hear that salty old sea god Poseidon laughing.
Some Greek geographer’s turgid memoirs had supplied oodles of misinformation to Helena Justina. My sceptical wife and tour-planner reckoned that even from this far out you could not only see the Lighthouse, shining like a big confusing star, but also smell the city wafting across the water. She swore she could. True or not, we two romantics convinced ourselves that exotic scents of lotus oil, rose petals, nard, Arabian balsam, bdellium and frankincense were greeting us over the warm ocean—along with the other memorable odours of Alexandria, sweaty robes and overflowing sewage. Not to mention the occasional dead cow floating down the Nile.
As a Roman, my handsome nose detected this perfume’s darkest under-notes. I knew my heritage. I came fully equipped with the old prejudice that anything to do with Egypt involved corruption and deceit.
I was right too.
At last we sailed safely through the treacherous shoals to what could only be the legendary city of Alexandria. The captain seemed relieved to have found it—and perhaps surprised at his skilful steering. We pootled in under the enormous Lighthouse then he tried to find one empty space to moor amongst the thousands of vessels that lined the embankments of the Eastern Harbour. We had a pilot, but pointing out a spare stretch of quay was beneath him. He put himself off into a bumboat and left us to it. For a couple of hours our ship manoeuvred slowly up and down. At last we squeezed in, shaving the paint on two other vessels with the joggle-mooring method.
Helena and I like to think we are good travellers, but we are human. We were tired and tense. It had taken six days from Athens, via Rhodes, and an interminable time out from Rome before that. We had lodgings; we were to stay with my Uncle Fulvius and his live-in boyfriend—but we did not know them well and were anxious about how we would find their house. In addition, Helena and I were well-read. We knew our history. So, as we faced up to disembarkation, I could not help joking about Pompey the Great: how he was collected from his trireme to go ashore to meet the King of Egypt—and how he was stabbed in the back by a Roman soldier he knew, butchered with his wife and children watching, then beheaded.
My job involves weighing up risks, then taking them anyway. Despite Pompey, I was all set to lead the way bravely down the gangplank when Helena shoved me out of her way.
‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, Falco. Nobody here wants your head— yet. I’ll go first!’ she said.
Excerpted from Alexandria by Lindsey Davis.
Copyright © 2009 by Lindsey Davis.
Published by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.