Lindsey Davis Nemesis
Marcus Didius Falco a man of mixed fortunes and seeker after truth
Helena Justina his true love, sought and won
Falco's family low grade, but not as bad as they seem:
Junilla Tacita formidable wife to the deplorable Geminus
Maia Favonia Falco's sister, the best of the bunch
Flavia Albia heart-broken and ready to break heads
Katutis Falco's secretary, a disappointed man
Helena's family high class, but not as good as they look:
Aulus Camillus Aelianus keeping a low profile
Quintus Camillus Justinus keeping his career on target, thanks to:
Claudia Rufma his wife and financial backer
Lentullus an accident waiting to happen
Falco's associates in Rome
Lucius Petronius Longus an upright vigiles enquirer (low pay)
Lucius Petronius Rectus his brother, feeling off colour
Nero their ox, another one gone missing
Tiberius Fusculus Petro's second in command
Sergius their whip man (always encouraging)
Clusius a devious rival auctioneer (low motives)
Gaius a dubious apprentice (high hopes)
Gornia a tight-lipped porter (no comment)
Septimus Parvo a family lawyer (absolutely no comment)
Thalia a contortionist with a problem to wriggle out of
Philadelphion and Davos her lovers, keeping well off the scene
Minas of Karystos a lawyer, on the up
Hosidia Meline a bride (on the make?)
Also in Rome
Tiberius Claudius Laeta a smooth bureaucrat with high aspirations
Momus a rough-edged auditor with low habits
Tiberius Claudius Anacrites the Chief Spy, a high-flyer of low worth
The Melitans his agents (dodgy connections)
Perella an assassin who wants a new job (her boss's)
Heracleides party-planner to the stars
Nymphidias his thieving chef
Scorpus a singer, spying on spies (an idiot)
Alis a fortune-teller who blames Mum (a wise woman)
Arrius Persicus a philanderer, oversexed and over-budget
A courier newly wed and newly dead
Volusius Mum's boy, a numerate victim
Januaria a waitress at Satricum, an all-rounder
Livia Primilla amp; Julius Modestus complainants in high dudgeon
Sextus Silanus their nephew in Lanuvium, in low spirits
Macer their loyal overseer, gone missing
Syrus their runaway slave, fatally roughed up
A butcher in Lanuvium a very careless creditor
The horrible Claudii neighbours from Hades:
Aristocles and Casta cold-natured, hot-tempered parents (deceased)
Claudius Nobilis so notorious, he has 'gone to see his granny'
Pius and Virtus the twins, 'working away from home'
Probus 'upholding the family name'
Plotia and Byrta downtrodden wives
Demetria runaway wife of Claudius Nobilis (low esteem)
Costus her new boyfriend (asking for trouble)
Vexus her father (anticipating the worst)
Thamyris employer of Nobilis and Costus (over-confident)
Silvius an officer of the Urban Cohorts, undercover
Plus full supporting cast:
Jason the python, dogs, missing persons, slaves (non-persons), personal beauticians, impersonal magistrates
The Praetorian Guards bastards!
ROME AND LATIUM: SUMMER, AD 77 I
I find it surprising more people are not killed over dinner at home. In my work we reckon that murder is most likely to happen among close acquaintances. Someone will finally snap after years of being wound up to blind rage by the very folk who best know how to drive them to distraction. For once it will be just too much to watch someone else eating the last sesame pancake – - which, of course, was snatched with a triumphant laugh that was intended to rankle. So a victim expires with honey still dribbling down their chin – - though it happens less often than you might expect.
Why are more kitchen cleavers not sunk between the fat shoulders of appalling uncles who get the slaves pregnant? Or that sneaky sister who shamelessly grabs the most desirable bedroom, with its glimpse of a corner of the Temple of Divine Claudius and almost no cracks in the walls? Or the crude son who farts uncontrollably, however many times he is told…
Even if people do not stab or strangle their own, you would expect more to rush out into the streets and vent their frustration upon the first person they meet. Perhaps they do. Perhaps even the random killing of strangers, which the vigiles call 'a motiveless crime', sometimes has an understandable domestic cause.
It could so easily have happened to us.
I grew up in a large family, crammed into a couple of small, sour rooms. All around our apartment were other teeming groups, too noisy, too obstreperous and all packed together far too close. Perhaps the thing that saved us from tragedy was that my father left home – - his only escape from a situation he had come to find hideous, and an event which at least saved us from the burden of more children. Later my brother took himself off to the army; eventually I saw the sense of it and did the same. My sisters moved out to harass the feckless men they bullied into marriage. My mother, having brought up seven, was left alone but continued to have a strong influence on all of us. Even my father, once he returned to Rome, viewed Ma with wary respect.
As she continually reminded us, mothers can never retire. So, when my wife went into labour with our third child, in came Ma to boss everyone about, even though she was becoming frail and had eyesight problems. Helena's own mama rushed to our house too, the noble Julia Justa rolling up her sleeves to interfere in her genteel way. We had employed a perfectly decent midwife.
At first the mothers battled for dominance. In the end, when they were both badly needed, all that stopped.
My new son died on the day he was born. At once, we felt we were living in a tragedy that was unique to us. I suppose that is how it always seems.
The birth had been easy, a short labour like our second daughter's. Favonia had taken a week to seize upon existence but then she thrived. I thought the same would happen. But when this baby emerged, he was already fading. He never responded to us; he slipped away within hours.
The midwife said a mother should hold a dead baby; afterwards she and Julia Justa had to wrestle to make Helena give up the body again. Helena went into deep shock. Women cleaned up, as they do. Helena Justina stayed in the bedroom, refusing comfort, ignoring food, declining to see her daughters, even distant with me. My sister Maia said this day would be black in Helena's calendar for the rest of her life; Maia knew what it was to lose a child. At first I could not believe Helena would ever come out of it. It seemed to me, we might never even reach that point where grief only overtook her on anniversaries. She stayed frozen at the moment when she was told her boy was dead.
All action fell to me. It was not a legal necessity, but I named him: Marcus Didius Justinianus. In my place many fathers would not have bothered. His birth would not be registered; he had no civic identity. Perhaps I was wrong. I just had to decide what to do. His mother had survived, but for the moment I was alone trying to hold the family together, trying to choose what formalities were appropriate. It all became even more difficult after I learned what else had happened on that day.
The tiny swaddled bundle had been placed in a room we rarely used. What was I to do next? A newborn should receive no funeral rites; he was too small for full cremation. Adult burials must be held outside the city; families who can afford it build a mausoleum beside a highroad for their embalmed bodies or cremation urns. That had never been for us; ashes of the plebeian Didii are kept in a cupboard for a time, and then mysteriously lost.