Roman Chandler

The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis, Pan, 1989

Right. Hands Up. I am the last Greenwich Resident to have come across Marcus Didius Falco. But hey – better late than never. And I have been wrestling with Hasted…

Okay, so I had heard of Falco. I was once driving somewhere and switched onto a R4 adaptation of one of his cases. But since I’d tuned into the middle of the story, and I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I switched off again.

My only other excuse, which is rubbish in the extreme, is that I had, in my pathetic mind, Lindsey Davis confused with Robertson Davies, who, the only time I tried to read him, left me baffled. I am a Phantom of very little brain sometimes.

Still. I needed something to read, and there was The Silver Pigs, sitting on the shelf. I’m not really sure how it got there. Lucky for me it’s Falco’s first foray, so I didn’t spend ages trying to figure what was going on.

It didn’t take long to work out where Lindsey Davis is coming from. She’s clearly a Raymond Chandler* fan, and though the setting may be a couple of thousand years – and miles – from 1940s Hollywood, the hardboiled wit and quickfire dialogue is all there, though happily a little easier to understand than The Big Sleep

Philip Marlowe and Marcus Didius (is it pronounced DIE-di-us or Diddy-us?) Falco have more than a little in common and the whole noir theme is beautifully pastiched – the down-at-heel PI, the tough criminal underworld, even the beautiful femme-fatale.

And the attention to historic detail is fabulous. If Lindsey Davis didn’t look up every single detail, I believe she did from the way she writes. I completely trust those little snippets of Roman life she quietly inserts that make me realise that people then were no different to today (or 1940s America…)

But The Silver Pigs is more than just a cod-noir or a history lesson – it’s a rip-roaring, good read, full of life, fun – and plot. I’m not really a crime novel reader (as you have probably gathered from my lack of knowledge of this book…) but I’ll be getting another Falco or two now.

I don’t believe that Davis was a Greenwich resident when she wrote The Silver Pigs, but I like to think there is at least one line that’s in (sort-of) reference to the area:

“Rutupiae bore all the marks of an Imperial entry port, but once we rode out down the supply road south of the River Tamesis, it was the old scene of smoky round huts clustered in poky, square fields, surly cattle drifting under ominous skies and a definite sense that you could travel for days over the downs and through the forests before you found an altar to any god whose name you recognised.”

Yeah, that’ll be us…

Find the book here:

*A South London boy, BTW…

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