Authors are told to read, read, read. I have to admit, between my own writing, studying how to write better, practicing flute, doing bills, keeping up with the house (well, not keeping up, more like running madly behind, trying to get within spitting distance…but at least my sink is clean 🙂 ), making dinner, shopping, laundry…um, etc (substitute for me getting whiny, lol)–ANNNYWAY, I don’t get to read for pleasure very often.
Always hopeful I might find a few minutes to enjoy a book, when visiting my library’s New Release shelves last month, I found a book by an author I’d read a long time ago (but stopped reading), and picked it up. When I was sick the next day, I actually found time to read it.
It was SERIOUSLY good.
Hey, it might have been the fever. But I started another by the same author and it was also seriously good.
So, you probably have two questions. What’s the book, and why did reader-me lose track of the series (and what’s different about it now)?
The author is Lindsey Davis and the original series was Marcus Didius Falco, a private informer (i.e. detective) in Rome during the first century AD.
The new book is Deadly Election: A Flavia Albia Mystery (blurb at the end), continuing the Falco series with his daughter Albia.
Why did I enjoy the Falco series originally?
- Well written.
- I like stories that I can painlessly learn something (through the action). These stories are well researched, yet her research was represented in vivid interaction with the time and place, not dry facts.
- A love interest who does NOT get tossed to the side or murdered (this is a pet peeve).
- I like mysteries.
- Good editing (bad editing is also a pet peeve).
- Character was mostly driven by intelligent choices in difficult circumstances rather than making bad decisions to further the plot (aka not too stupid to live, another pet peeve).
Why did I lose track of the series?
I think it’s because Falco was, in a way, too well written. He’s a guy, and to me, he came across as a guy. Even though there’s a love interest, she’s left in the background a lot. And he still ogles and stuff. And does some guy stuff that is mildly interesting but not completely relatable to me (I do enjoy some traditionally guy stuff, like sword and armor making).
(Please note, this is from my memory of the books. I may be misremembering, but I do know I felt the middle of the last one I read was draggy. There may be other reasons, but since I’ll be rereading some of the earlier ones now, I’ll update if I get more info.)
So what’s different about this book?
The new series is about Falco’s daughter, a widow living on her own, already meaty enough. But more, she’s an adopted Briton with no known past, so she’s a mystery and a bit of outsider even though she’s totally accepted by her adopting family. Her family has money but she doesn’t, except what she earns. She’s capable and smart and kind but strong. She’s a woman so she notices stuff like jewelry and makeup and how a home is put together from the woman’s point of view and gives observations on women’s roles in society, stuff I find I’m more interested in than the guy stuff.
And, good heavens, Albia’s observations are witty. Love ’em!
The Falco series was good but not a keeper for me, because I didn’t identify strongly enough with the main character, and the middle action wasn’t quite compelling enough (for me). As an author I’d like to think readers will cut me some slack, but as a reader I know there are too many books out there that satisfy two or three out of the following four factors.
Bottom line: as many as possible of THESE FACTORS need to be met for me to engage as a reader: a STORY I want to read; a CHARACTER I can relate to (doesn’t have to be the main character, but does need to be in enough of the story action that I don’t put the book down); few-to-no PET PEEVES knocking me out of the story; ENGAGING ACTION, that is, character doing stuff that I care about.
We use the tag words genre, character, good writing, and plot for the four things above. I think to some extent those words have been leached of meaning and hope the ones I’ve used make more vivid pictures in your mind.
Notice how many of these things are dependent on the reader? We like to think, as authors, we’re in a lonely profession. But the truth of the matter is all art is collaborative, and stories rely on what the reader brings to the table as much as any stage production’s success depends on audience mood.
What about you? What makes you lose track of a series? What makes a series a keeper?
In the first century A.D., during Domitian’s reign, Flavia Albia is ready for a short break from her family. So despite the oppressive July heat, she returns to Rome, leaving them at their place on the coast. Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, the famed private informer (now retired), has taken up her father’s former profession, and it’s time to get back to work. The first order of business, however, is the corpse that was found in a chest sent as part of a large lot to be sold by the Falco family auction house. As the senior family representative in Rome, it falls upon Albia to identify the corpse, find out why he was killed, who killed him, and, most important, how did it end up in the chest.
At the same time, her potential young man, Faustus, comes looking for help with his friend Sextus’s political campaign. Between the auction business and Roman politics, it’s not quite clear which one is the more underhanded and duplicitous. Both, however, are tied together by the mysterious body in the chest, and if Albia isn’t able to solve that mystery, it won’t be the only body to drop.