Literature: Marcus Didius Falco aka: Lindsey Davis
Some men are born lucky, others are called Didius Falco.
Central character and narrator of the Historical Fiction novels by Lindsey Davis. Falco is an "informer" (the equivalent of a private eye) in Ancient Rome around A.D. 70. Reviewers describe Marcus Didius Falco as "Sam Spade in a Toga", but existing centuries before Film/Noir was invented makes Falco amusingly Genre Blind, and allows the author to gleefully subvert most Hardboiled Detective tropes. The series follows Falco as he takes on a series of cases, often in far-off provinces, and slowly climbs his way up the social ladder- while dealing with anal-retentive bureaucrats, foreign officials, his various siblings, and other hindering bastards. These, in turn, make the books a mix of historical fiction, crime, and comedy that blend in a very satisfying way.The series runs as follows:
The Silver Pigs (1989)
Shadows In Bronze (1990)
Venus In Copper (1991)
The Iron Hand Of Mars (1992)
Poseidon's Gold (1993)
Last Act In Palmyra (1994)
Time To Depart (1995)
A Dying Light In Corduba (1996)
Three Hands In The Fountain (1997)
Two For The Lions (1998)
One Virgin Too Many (1999)
Ode To A Banker (2000)
A Body In The Bath House (2001)
The Jupiter Myth (2002)
The Accusers (2003)
Scandal Takes A Holiday (2004)
See Delphi And Die (2005)
It has a pseudo-prequel, The Course Of Honour (1998), in which a young man called Vespasian climbs to the very top of the ladder and founds the Flavian dynasty of emperors.It also has what could be described as a grim footnote to the series, Master and God (2012) in which the reign of Emperor Titus ends prematurely and the second Flavian prince, Domitian, takes over as Emperor, goes insane, and the Flavian dynasty ends in his assassination. Then again, Davis wrote Domitian as the flaky, murderous one as far back in the series as Shadows In Bronze (1990), so it's not too surprising...
Abusive Parents: Falco's father went out to a game of draughts when he was seven and never came back. He sent Junilla Tacita money (nothing like a fair share of what he made, though Falco concedes that Geminus had a point when he said that giving money to Falco's sisters would have been a bad idea) and later reappeared. Falco never forgives him, and Geminus refuses to believe that he could have possibly done the wrong thing by abandoning his wife and seven children.
Adult Fear: Two of Petro's children die from chicken pox. In One Virgin Too Many, Gaia Laelia falls down a well (and is fine... for a given value of fine), but spent about two days down there.
Asshole Victim: Happens from time to time, but particularly obvious in Ode to a Banker with Chryssipus. Also, after his head injury makes him ever more unstable, Anacrites is this until Falco and Petro are forced to kill him.
Batman Gambit: After twenty books, Falco knows exactly how to make Anacrites dance to his tune. And Anacrites knows how to make Falco and Petro dance too...
Black Widow: Professional widow Severina Zotica in "Venus in Copper".
Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "You look like a spy." "I thought I looked like a priest." "Falco, you look like a spy who's disguised as a priest!"
Brick Joke: In Venus In Copper, Falco ends up acquiring a talking parrot who belonged to a suspect. He asks Helena to write down anything the parrot (called Chloe) says, in case she says something relevant to his case. Helena annotates the list of things Chloe said and asks if 'manicure set' is a euphemism, since Chloe also said another euphemism and several obscenities. Falco tells her that if 'manicure set' is a euphemism, he doesn't know it. Late in the novel, he ends up talking to Thalia the animal handler, who before talking to him is telling a bawdy story in which she describes one man's privates as resembling a 'three-piece manicure set'...
Vinius in Master and God, who goes through six wives. To be fair, it wouldn't have been so many if his brothers hadn't kept marrying him off every time he got divorced.
The Clan: Falco's family. They may all be crazy, but you do not mess with them. Set up as a deliberate counterpoint to Anacrites in Nemesis.
Cult: Christians who seduce young middle-class idiots into worshipping only one God (how boring) and solicit donations from travellers who have to beat them up to convince them to mind their own business. Plus they don't respect the Emperor (neither does Falco of course, but he doesn't piss him off by saying so in public).
A Day in the Limelight: The Course Of Honour stars Vespasian and his mistress, Antonia's freedwoman Caenis, who later turns up in Two For The Lions.
Decoy Protagonist: The beginning of The Silver Pigs makes it look like Sosia will be another protagonist with Falco. She gets killed off rather quickly. The other protagonist is her cousin, Helena Justina.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Helena Justina, the patrician daughter of a senator, and therefore two ranks above Falco (a plebeian). The two fall in love in "The Silver Pigs", and a constant theme of later novels is Falco trying to advance his social status so he can legitimise their relationship.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Two thousand years separate us from the people in the book, and to modern eyes some of their behaviour can seem inhumane and just plain strange. To her credit, the author doesn't play it for shock value, but rather as a natural part of life in Rome.
Disappeared Dad: Falco has a grudge against his father (and redheads) because his dad ran off with another woman when Falco was a child. He later comes back into Falco's life under the guise of shady auctioneer Geminus. Falco never forgives him.
Downer Ending: These often happen- life doesn't fix itself just because the crimes get solved.
Dramatis Personae: The author says she does it because Roman names follow such similar patterns that she gets confused herself. Done tongue-in-cheek in "Last Act in Palmyra", in which Falco joins a travelling theatre troupe.
Even Falco Has Standards: Veleda stirred up rebellions against Rome and conducted numerous human sacrifices, and yet Falco still helps her escape her fate (paraded as a prisoner in Rutilius Gallicus' Ovation before being raped and executed as the highlight), mainly because he thinks it's a horrible death that nobody deserves. He'd prefer her to be killed quickly and cleanly.
Eye Scream: The death of Pomponius. Not content with strangling him, his killers took his eye out too.
First-Person Smartass: Falco spends a lot of time rotting in wineshops and giving lengthy, unflattering descriptions of everyone he meets. However never having read Raymond Chandler, he doesn't know that private eyes are supposed to be loners. "Honest, legate!"
Foil: Anacrites to Falco. They both come from unstable families ( Anacrites' family were horrible freed slaves and he was taken from them at age three, while Falco's parents separated early and his entire family are insane), both work in similar jobs (Anacrites is a spy and Falco is an informer), and they both end up getting out of some very tricky situations. Falco, however, has what Anacrites wants but never got- loving family members and people who support him.
Friend on the Force: Falco's best friend, Petronius, is a member of the Vigiles (primarily these were fireman; policing was a secondary role, and yes the Author knows this).
Freudian Excuse: Anacrites was forcibly removed from his family as a young boy and made to grow up among slaves. He eventually comes to really envy Falco for his tight-knit family, as screwed up as they are.
From Nobody to Nightmare: Florius starts off as a harmless equestrian, the son of a ruthless gangster- and once the gangster is dead, he takes his place and rises in the Underworld, becoming a feared figure in no time who nearly kills Petro.
The Fun in Funeral: The funeral of the pirate Theopompus in Scandal Takes a Holiday is an undignified affair from the beginning, but after his murderers are identified at the funeral it lapses into farce when two entire gangs of pirates begin to beat seven kinds of shit out of each other, while the vigiles lounge around eating the finger food, waiting for them to finish so the survivors can be arrested.
Generation Xerox: Vinius, one of the protagonists of Master and God, is the son of Marcus Rubella. He spends a lot of time trying not to be his father, while everyone else thinks he should be his father.
Honor Before Reason: Falco rejects a social promotion at the end of "The Silver Pigs", as it's an obvious bribe for keeping quiet about a political scandal. Falco then realises he's thrown away the chance to marry Helena legally and changes his mind, but by then Vespasian has withdrawn his offer.
In the Blood: Everyone fears this of Aelianus- he admits to admiring and liking his uncle, who disappeared. In addition, Aelianus is bored, constantly shafted by everyone else, and in a very volatile position. His uncle, a hedonistic layabout, committed treason and was killed for it. More than a few people fear that if given the opportunity, Aelianus might do the same.
Irony: Rubella wanted to get into the Praetorian Guard more than anything. Master and God tells us that he did indeed get into the Guard- and died six weeks later, because he celebrated so much that the wine basically killed his brain.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In "The Iron Hand of Mars" Falco discovers that Helena is being courted by the Emperor's son Titus. Falco knows she doesn't love Titus, but out of a belated sense of patriotism — and feeling that he can't stand in the way of her getting such a tremendous social advancement — urges Helena to accept. Helena calmly responds that she's already turned Titus down.
Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: "The Silver Pigs" being followed by "Shadows in Bronze", "Venus in Copper", "The Iron Hand of Mars" and "Poseidon's Gold". At which point Lindsey Davis ran out of metals that were known to the Romans and sounded promising in a title. Titles after that follow no particular pattern, though several riff on a well-known phrase (e.g "Three Hands in the Fountain"). "Three Hands" is also the first in a trio of books with numerically-themed titles: "Three Hands in the Fountain", "Two for the Lions" and "One Virgin Too Many".
It Will Never Catch On: Falco writes a play, "The Spook Who Spoke", with a plot remarkably similar to Hamlet. The actor he describes it to instantly rejects the idea, as ghosts don't speak in plays. On another occasion Falco encounters a Gaulish cook which he finds ridiculous, as that country will never be famous for good food.
In "Alexandria" the inventor Heron mentions his aeolipile (wind ball, a steam engine - and yes, it was a real invention) which Helena Justina suggests could be used as a form of propulsion to move vehicles. Heron laughs at this and says his invention is merely a toy, "who would need it?" (although he also points out the difficulty making a strong enough boiler for a larger version).
Jerkass Has a Point: As mentioned above, Geminus was right when he said giving money to any of Falco's sisters (possibly excepting Maia) would have been a bad idea. They're all bloody scary.
Leave No Witnesses: The fight at the end of Two For The Lions, while not intentional, ends with Fidelis, Saturnius, Calliopus and Scilla all dead, and Anacrites nearly dead, thus neatly killing off nearly everyone responsible for the events of the book.
Never Suicide: Averted with Theon in Alexandria- Falco finally concludes that the most likely explanation is that he killed himself and the locked doors were an accident.
New Old Flame: The oft-mentioned "Tripolantian rope-dancer", that Falco was carrying on with before the events of the first novel, finally makes an appearance in "The Jupiter Myth".
Oh My Gods!: A given in Rome's polytheist society (though they usually just say "Gods"). Variations include using specific gods, usually relevant to the situation (i.e. "Juno Moneta!" if you were financially screwed). More earthy characters use "Balls" or (Marcus' favourite) "Cobnuts".
Old Shame: Falco and Petro were both in the army at the same time, and they served in Legio 2 Augusta/the Second Augusta, the infamous legion whose leader refused to fight against Boudicca. As a result, Falco has to be very careful about saying what legion he was in to certain people who he knows will take it the wrong way (usually soldiers, ex-soldiers and ex-army officers).
Also, early on in the series Falco disposes of the corpse of Justinus, Aelianus and Helena's uncle at the behest of the Emperor. True, their father actually dealt the death-blow, but the manner in which he had to dispose of the rotting body is something he has never discussed openly, and he was worried that he would find the body itself in the sewer in Three Hands.
Pride: Domitian's biggest fault. He wants to be loved like his father and brother, but he never gets the love he wants because unlike them, he's a cold, calculating bastard. He does his best to make himself loved, and tries to pump up his self-esteem through more and more accolades to himself (such as renaming two months of the year, giving himself Triumphs when the wars fought weren't that substantial, and openly allowing people to call him 'Master and God', which is abominable to most Romans (calling someone a god while still alive was considered terrible, and the worst kind of hubris)). It doesn't work. Master and God notes that the public find him cold and distant, regularly buying them off; the Senate have been made obsolete, and just about anyone of note is terrified at how capricious he is.
Reality Ensues: At one point in Two For the Lions, Falco is forced to give up on a case because there's just nothing to continue on with. He then goes on a chapter-long rant about how real cases aren't solved in a couple of days and clues don't materialise when it's most convenient.
Red Shirt: Linus, one of Petronius' crew we're introduced to in Time to Depart. He exists to get killed by Balbinus.
Running Gag: People calling other people bastards. Someone gets called a bastard about once every five pages.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Themison of Miletus, a doctor, describes Domitian's paranoia as this- patients with paranoia tend to suspect everyone around them, despite their innocence, and will continue to do so even if evidence proving their innocence is shown. Many will end up turning against their paranoid loved ones because they just can't take it any more. Vinius does so, in the end.
Shout Out: In one novel, Falco strikes up a conversation with a group of Judean refugees who offer him a commission to retrieve one of their holy relics. At first, Falco is afraid that they want him to "Raid" the treasures brought back after the Roman conquest. However, they then tell Falco that they want him to look for a "Lost Ark." Falco demurs, and tells that someone more of a daredevil then he would have to perform that particular quest...
Davis has admitted to quite a lot of what she calls "tribute plagiarism" of authors she respects, most notably Sir Terry Pratchett. Examples of Discworld homage in the books are too numerous to inventory, but include Heron's steam-engine (Small Gods), the character of Zoilus, who flaps around the cemetary in a sheet pretending to be dead (Felmet in Wyrd Sisters), the policeman who turns up at the Saturnalia party dressed as a six-foot carrot; the three witches, one of whom is indisposed because of having to babysit the grandchildren; Alexandria University, where academics try to gain promotion by killing off the men senior to them, sometimes with the assistance of sacred crocodiles (Pyramids); and do feel free to add more examples. There are plenty.
Shown Their Work: Davis explores Roman life in detail, including some areas that are little known such as the olive oil industry ("A Dying Light in Corduba"), art dealing ("Poseidon's Gold"), real estate and the nouveau-riche ("Venus in Copper"), finance and vanity publishing ("Ode to a Banker"), Vestal Virgins and other cults (One Virgin Too Many), and the legal profession ("The Accusers").
Sins of Our Fathers: Aelianus is shafted from a religious order he wants to join because of his uncle's involvement in treason. He had no part of it and didn't even know it happened, but that's irrelevant.
Super Drowning Skills: Falco never learned to swim; he was confined to barracks the week all the other recruits learned. Helena tries to teach him a few times, but it never works.
Marina, Festus' girlfriend, slept with Falco once. She got pregnant shortly afterwards (Festus was around, so Marcia might not be Falco's child) but after Festus died, a large part of the family believed that Falco was the father and he nearly married Marina for the sake of it.