Writing a second novel is a tough enough challenge, but how do you approach your twentieth one – especially if it is part of the same series?
Do you risk the ire of your readers by revealing an unexpected side of your main characters or do you keep steering them along the same familiar path with only incremental changes to their personalities?
In Nemesis, Lindsey Davis adopts the former approach, taking her usually good natured hero Marcus Didius Falco across to the “dark side” as he fights to defend himself and his family against his long-time enemy, the spy Anacrites. To intensify the drama, the author also brings Falco’s wife Helena Justina along for the ride. Who would have thought that this cultured and tolerant aristocrat would end up (albeit reluctantly at first) condoning torture in her own home and even murder?
Taking her main characters in this new direction is a risky move on the author’s part, and she should be applauded for her courage in doing this. But the problem is that although there’s no denying that Rome was a very dangerous place during the First Century AD, the threat that Falco and his family face doesn’t seem serious enough to justify the extreme measures he decides to take and his (and his wife’s) behavior seems out of character.
Still, like all the books in the Falco series, Nemesis is a fast-paced and entertaining read and provides some fascinating insights into Ancient Roman life. It will be interesting to see what happens to Falco and Helena in the next book in the series. I for one hope they don’t step further into the dark side.