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...The Ides of April picks up in 89AD, with Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, now an established informer in her own right, and continues with Enemies At Home.
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. Helena ends up having four children, but only two make it: the first miscarries after a fall down some stairs and the fourth is dead shortly after birth.
Animal Motifs: Master and God has flies. They turn up occasionally to represent certain things: for example, when Rutilius Gallicus is found to be so depressed that he cannot function, the narrator calls attention to a fly that keeps trying to headbutt its way through a shutter to freedom, even though all it would need to do is walk three steps.
An Offer You Can't Refuse: At the beginning of Shadows in Bronze, Falco and Anacrites are making a report to Vespasian. Vespasian shifts the topic to one of the conspirators from The Silver Pigs, saying that he will be "obliged to grant him a favor he won't forget", likely invoking this trope. Falco doesn't understand the statement, thinking it is some sort of code-speak (though he gets it later).
Asshole Victim: Happens from time to time, but particularly obvious in Ode to a Banker with Chrysippus. Also, after his head injury makes him ever more unstable, Anacrites is this until Falco and Petro are forced to kill him.
Ass Shove: How mine slaves picking refined silver from the cooled furnace steal from the till in The Silver Pigs, in order to avoid discovery during daily body searches (which obviously aren't thorough enough). Falco manages to amass and sneak off a nugget this way while undercover as a slave, which eventually becomes a ring he gifts to Helena.
Back for the Dead: After being the main character of The Course of Honour, Caenis appears in exactly one book in the main series. It's also the book she dies in.
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…
The Beard: In Shadows in Bronze, this is the role Helena Justina plays for Aemilius Rufus, a magistrate she's friends with.
Betty and Veronica: Venus In Copper looks like it's setting one up between Helena Justina (Betty) and Severina Zotica (Veronica), but it's essentially a bluff: Falco and Helena are made for each other, Severina's a murderess, and when she tries to kill Helena, the triangle quietly vanishes.
Bittersweet Ending: Nemesis, to the whole series: Petro and Maia are finally together, Anacrites and his brothers are dead, and it looks like it's smooth sailing from then on... but Helena and Falco's son died, as did Geminus; and Vespasian's about to die, meaning that while they'll get the friendly Titus as Emperor for two years, they'll then get the very unfriendly Domitian as Emperor.
Blackmail: Falco occasionally blackmails Anacrites, usually to get him to back off, with his knowledge that Anacrites once fought as a gladiator in an arena, which would make him a social outcast.
He never actually tries it, but Falco keeps the evidence that Domitian murdered Sosia Camillina, and makes sure that the Caesars know that he has said evidence.
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!"
'The night-life was plentiful: drunks, fornicators, more drunks, cats who had learned from the fornicators, even drunker drunks. Drunken cats, probably.'
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'...
Broken Ace: Aemilius Rufus in Shadows in Bronze. He initially appears to be a competent, attractive, skilled, wealthy aristocrat, but he's quickly revealed to be a complete moron who has no idea what he's doing.
Call Back: Falco disposes of Helena's treasonous uncle's corpse by throwing it into a sewer. He and Petro later do the same for Anacrites' corpse.
In Master and God, right after he's made Emperor, Domitian ends up sitting alone in a room, being depressed and killing flies by stabbing them with his pen. And in The Silver Pigs, he killed Sosia by stabbing her with his pen.
The Charmer: Quinctius Quadratus in A Dying Light In Corduba. He's popular, good-looking, and very charming- basically, as Falco notes, everything that should make him successful, but he is actually incapable of knowing when he has done something wrong, so he never quite figures out why so many people who should like him think he's a bastard. (To be fair to them, he is.)
The City Narrows: Falco's neighborhood in the Aventine, full of grimy characters of all types (Falco himself included). The Transtiberina district is also this way, the difference being that the Aventine is full of lower-class Romans born and raised in the city while the Transtiberina is an immigrant ghetto. Falco prefers the Aventine because he grew up there and knows the streets like the back of his hand.
The Subura was worse, according to Falco's narration in Venus In Copper. It's got better since then, but it's still a very dangerous place.
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' family in Nemesis.
Clear My Name: Falco becomes the prime suspect in a murder in Poseidon's Gold and has to solve the case to clear himself. And the good name of the family as well, since Festus seems to have become involved in a scheme (before he died) where his financiers, fellow soldiers in the Legio XV Apollinaris, stole from the legion coffers to finance his venture.
Cluster F-Bomb: There's plenty of instances of 'shit' and the like in the main series, but only one instance of 'fuck' (see Precision F-Strike, below). Master and God, in contrast, uses 'fuck' liberally, mainly because one of the protagonists is a serving Praetorian Guard.
Florius Gracilis in The Iron Hand Of Mars, who is trampled and gored to death by a wild aurochs.
Aufidius Crispus in Shadows In Bronze, who dives into the water just as a trireme sails over it, and is drowned after being bashed about by the oars.
Pomponius in A Body In The Bath House: Strangled, stabbed and one eye pulled out.
Chrysippus in Ode To A Banker: His attacker shoves a scroll-rod up his nose before beating him to death.
Rufius Constans in A Dying Light In Corduba, who tries to fit a new millstone into his grandparents' mill, but it doesn't work- and the millstone ends up caving in his chest.
Famia in Two For The Lions, who is sentenced to death by being torn apart by a lion.
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.
Dead Guy Junior: Sosia Favonia, Falco's second daughter, who is usually just referred to as Favonia to make things easier for everyone.
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.
Derivative Works: "Age of Treason", a loose film adaptation of The Silver Pigs starring Bryan Brown as Falco. Lindsey Davis disowned the film for deviating too much from the source material.
Did They or Didn't They?: Justinus and Veleda. They had several hours together in her tower, but on the other hand, for all we know Veleda just wanted some intelligent conversation from a sophisticated man. Justinus never confirms that he slept with her; Falco and the soldiers all instantly decide that he did. Either way, it's not like it worked out.
Aemilius Rufus and Helena Justina in Shadows in Bronze. Rufus's sister Aemilia Fausta hints that Helena is Rufus' mistress, and that they engaged in intimate activities at Aufidius Crispus' party (which Aemilia Fausta gatecrashed with Falco). Falco is not inclined to believe it given the somewhat distant interactions between Rufus and Helena, though he's still torn up about it. After a spat with Helena, he trusts her when she says she never slept with Rufus. Lingering doubts in the readers' minds may be dispelled when Aemilius Rufus makes a pass at Falco in private, which combined with his continued bachelor status indicates that he is strictly homosexual.
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 and Helena join a travelling theatre troupe.
Due to the Dead: When Falco disposes of Helena's uncle's corpse, he has enough courtesy to toss a fistful of dirt and a coin down the sewer hatch after the body, and say the customary prayer for the dead.
In The Iron Hand of Mars, Falco, Justinus, and a detachment of recruits (led by their centurion) visit a fort whose garrison was starved into submission, then massacred after they had surrendered. The group erect a small altar and offer prayers for the dead— and pray for their own safety in their subsequent journey into non-Roman territory. Later, when the group encounters the ruined remains of the field camp of the legions who were massacred at Teutoburg Forest, they are so stunned that they cannot offer anything but a heavy moment of silence.
Establishing Character Moment: Falco's first moments in the series has him calmly discussing why the girl running toward him is wearing too many clothes. He screws with her head a little, but when she pleads him for help he rapidly dispatches everyone chasing her, causes a distraction and has them both running for a safe place in minutes: a fast-thinker, a good fighter but one with a decent sense of humour. Helena, in contrast, is spiteful and angry, but is shown to be good with children and dearly loved her cousin.
Domitian's first appearance has him walking in on his brother and Falco whistling a very disrespectful song that only another Caesar would dare to sing, whistle or hum around Titus, which is a good confirmation that he cares so little for the consequences that he'd get involved in a treasonous plot.
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.
Fatal Flaw: A very literal version for Aufidius Crispus in Shadows in Bronze: he makes decisions on a whim, and often refuses to take advice concerning said decisions into account, even if the advice-giver really knows what they're talking about. Even when his decisions end badly, he refuses to learn from his mistakes. This flaw actually gets him killed, because he decides to dive into the sea to escape the imminent ship crash he's about to be in the middle of- and ends up going under a trireme.
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. Anacrites later tries to get what Falco has by dating his sister, but it doesn't end well for anyone.
Foreshadowing: In Master and God: "Those who love [Domitian] will feel rejected..." "Those who love him may be rejected." "Exactly." Later in the book, Domitian's obsessive paranoia becomes so extreme that Vinius, a previously loyal Praetorian, ends up joining the rebellion, and is later forced to finally kill Domitian himself, since their appointed assassin screwed it up.
Friend on the Force: Falco's best friend, Petronius, is a member of the Vigiles (primarily these were firemen; 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- i.e. pushing him into the army, promoting him, encouraging him to take new positions and so on. He ends up acting like his father to try not getting caught in a web of conspiracies.
Going Commando: Falco doesn't wear anything under his tunic. Played for laughs in One Virgin Too Many when he has to be lowered head-first down a well.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: When Falco and Flavius Hilaris interrogate Claudius Triferus, the contracted manager of the Vebiodunum silver mines in The Silver Pigs, Falco takes the role of the bad cop while Hilaris becomes the good cop.
Later, in The Iron Hand of Mars, Falco is attempting to extract information from a barmaid. He manages to upset her through mentioning her apparent lover. Justinus, accompanying Falco, goes into the tavern to comfort her and manages to get the needed information. Afterwards, Falco explicitly mentions this trope to Justinus.
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.
I Have This Friend: In Master and God, Gracilis and Vinius consult a doctor about their friend, Domitian. At first the doctor assumes that they're asking about themselves, but when he finds out who they mean, he has a mental breakdown because of the possible implications that could ensue, since he just diagnosed the Emperor with paranoia.
I Have Your Wife: A non-villainous version in Poseidon's Gold. Falco has become a prime suspect in a grisly murder of a legionnaire. Falco and Petro are thick as thieves, but they both know Petro is too conscientious a public officer (and has a family to consider) to cover for Falco indefinitely; on top of that, the magistrate Marponius has latched onto the case personally and is breathing down Petro's neck for results. Petro also knows that, even if Falco has been banned from leaving city limits, he could easily keep himself hidden inside Rome if he wanted to, so he ends up taking Helena into custody so that Falco would present himself (and whatever he has discovered) to the magistrate. To be fair to Petro, he did warn Falco ahead of time that he only had about a day's left of slack before Petro would be forced to pick up the pace. Subverted when it turns out Helena went to the murder scene of her own accord to help the waiter clean it up after the body was removed and thus cast herself under suspicion of concealing evidence.
I'm a Humanitarian: The villain of See Delphi And Die disguises the bodies of people he kills as meat that he sells.
Interservice Rivalry: Inter-legion rivalry; Falco states that the members of Legio XIV Gemina, who gained fame fighting in the Boudiccan Revolt, are not fond of Legio II Augusta—which Falco served in—due to the latter's refusal to fight during a battle in the revolt. It is Falco's own bad luck that he has to deliver the titular iron hand to them in The Iron Hand of Mars at the behest of the Emperor.
The Fourteenth Gemina is also not fond of the legion they share a fort with, the Legio I Adiutrix; Justinus, at the moment serving as an officer in the First, helpfully explains that the First Adiutrix was raised from marines in the Misenum fleet during Nero's time, making this a more traditional form of interservice rivalry.
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.
As pointed out in the same book, Domitian claimed to stand for morality and punished criminals severely... but because he was so emotionally volatile and hard to predict, everyone ended up behaving like a pack of douchebags just to survive, whether it was spying, bribing people, or just making things up. In other words, his laws didn't make Rome a more moral place, they pretty much destroyed what morality was left.
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 — he urges Helena to marry him. 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.
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. In the same book the theatre group is waylayed by a bizarre cult, called Christians. "Only one god? How boring."
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- after all, 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.
Karma Houdini: Anacrites got out of how many situations in the end?
Karmic Death: Domitian killed Sosia Camillina, a noble woman who was meant to trust him and be trusted. Falco has evidence about her death, but as he is a commoner with no status, he knows he can't fire the gun. In Master and God, Domitian is finally killed by Vinius, who started off as a commoner with no status before being bumped up to the Praetorian Guard, an elite body meant to trust Domitian and be trusted.
After creating a major clusterfuck in the gladiator world, the final fight in Two For The Lions ends with Fidelis, Saturnius, Myrrha, Calliopus and Scilla all dead, and Anacrites nearly dead, thus neatly killing off nearly everyone responsible.
Kicked Upstairs: 'Hunting leave' and 'being sent up-country' are codes for when someone is unofficially relieved from office or duty, and can amuse themselves however they want as long as they stay out of the way. Both terms carry a very negative connotation, because to be sent on hunting leave implies that somebody did something very wrong. It actually has even worse connotations for Quinctius Quadratus, because he got given some hunting leave before he'd even started his job, which is a giant red flag to everyone.
Laser-Guided Karma: Caprenius Marcellus, Helena's former father-in-law, is extremely fond of her and Atius Pertinax and wants them to get remarried. Later, he comes up with an idea: Pertinax has assumed a new identity, since he's officially dead, so Marcellus wants to write Helena into his will and make her his main beneficiary, with the intention that she'll remarry Pertinax. Falco, who knows damn well that Helena divorced Pertinax for being a neglectful husband, is furious at anybody trying to use her for something like that. Later, Marcellus has a stroke, and is rendered almost totally incapable of speech. Falco takes the opportunity to marry him to Aemilia Fausta, ignoring the fact that Marcellus probably had no idea of who she was, and Aemilia gets his lands, which later go to her son- who is most likely Petro's. Crosses over into Disproportionate Retribution.
Porcius, the new recruit in Time To Depart- he's the son of a man who sells cold meats, and 'Porcius' is close to 'porcine'. In a way, it can also be seen as a clue to the fact that he's a traitor: Porcius -> porcine -> pig -> squealer.
Metaphorically True: In Venus In Copper, Falco manages to bluff Priscillus beautifully by claiming that he saw the poisoned spices that Priscillus had brought mixed into wine and drunk, and then that he saw Novus lying dead from poison. He's not lying, as such: he did see the spices mixed into wine and drunk, and he did see Novus' body, but the wine was drunk by Novus' cook, who died, and Novus was murdered by Severina.
Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Master and God has Lucilla's husband Nemurus, who wears socks. In Rome, socks generally aren't a thing unless they're to keep one's feet warm, hide a deformity or make wearing shoes more comfortable; however, Nemurus wears socks because he's a hipster, and a particularly cruel one- his socks symbolise not only the fact that he's intentionally set out to make himself different, but also that he makes himself different because he feels that everyone else is below him. It's one of the big things that makes Lucilla realise that their marriage cannot continue.
Never Found the Body: In Enemies At Home, Albia's narration tells us that this was the case with Gaius and Larius, Falco's nephews. Having completed his work on the Great King's House in Britain, Larius went back to his home... which was in Pompeii. Albia especially notes that Larius was such a good painter that he was the type to stay and focus on his work rather than run from a volcanic eruption. As for Gaius, he pulled a Heroic Sacrifice during the second Great Fire of Rome, refusing to leave his house so he could help others get out.
Never Say "Die": A powerful example from Master and God: the narrator follows a fly as it attempts to annoy the new Emperor, swings past him and-
Narrator: Musca will not be appearing in this story again.
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 "Tripolitanian rope-dancer", that Falco was carrying on with before the events of the first novel, finally makes an appearance in "The Jupiter Myth".
Nobody Poops: Averted several times. The most significant one is at the end of Enemies At Home, when Albia contracts dysentery.
Non-Indicative Name: The Society of Olive Oil Producers of Baetica: Most of them aren't from Spain, very few of them own olives and even fewer produce olive oil.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Smug Snake Anacrites, the Chief Spy and Falco's rival, along with Laeta, the Correspondence Chief who is constantly warring with Anacrites.
Officer and a Gentleman: Justinus as an officer of the Legio I Adiutrix, as seen in The Iron Hand of Mars. He keeps himself connected to the troops as well as he can from his detached station, even picking up how to bugle the reveille. He's even picked up the local Germanic dialect, which allows him to communicate with Veleda in her native tongue and shatters her image of the "arrogant Roman" who sees everyone not part of the Empire as worthless barbarians who must learn and assimilate themselves into Roman culture, without learning anything about the native culture. Finally, when Falco and most of their guard detachment (Helvetius, a centurion, and his recruits) get captured by the locals, Justinus is the one who arrives to their rescue with a clever ploy (instead of running back to friendly lines, which Falco says would have been the sensible, expected thing to do), entering A Father to His Men territory in the meantime.
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.
The Silver Pigs has a bad one: Helena instantly takes against Falco, and they spend much of the book arguing. It turns out that Sosia and Helena were regularly exchanging letters before Sosia died, and Helena inferred from Sosia's letters that she'd fallen in love with Falco and had slept with him- and Sosia was only sixteen and had no previous sexual or romantic experience. As it turns out, Falco turned her down and refused to risk it, but it takes a while to get the misunderstanding sorted out. It really doesn't help that Sosia gave Falco a bracelet that Helena had given her, and Falco had brought it with him.
It's not just that; Sosia told Helena she'd given Falco the names of the the conspirators, so Helena assumes Falco's investigation is just a cover-up. Turns out she'd written out a denunciation and left it with the original silver pig.
A good deal more of the conspiracy could have been revealed earlier if Falco had just asked what Helena's ex-husband's name was.
Precision F-Strike: About the only one in the main series: Claudius Pius calling Falco and Petro 'donkey-fuckers' in Nemesis.
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.
Pyrrhic Villainy: By the end of Venus In Copper, Severina has amassed a huge dowry and got revenge on the man who inadvertently murdered her lover… but he's still dead, and she ends up in a probably unhappy marriage to a man who knows the details of her crimes and has evidence hidden away, so she can't kill him too.
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.
In The Silver Pigs, Sosia decides to go investigate a place where evidence is stored. However, she's a young teenager with no survival skills, and her note to Falco goes astray, so instead of being rescued at the last minute or managing to escape, she is unceremoniously murdered.
Red Shirt: Linus, one of Petronius' crew we're introduced to in Time to Depart. He exists to get killed by Balbinus.
Refuge in Audacity: Falco ends up with two living children: Julia Junilla Laeitana and Sosia Favonia. 'Laeitana' is the name of the province where Julia was born, but it's also the name of a wine, a fact which Falco was very aware of when he named her. Sosia is the name of Helena's dead cousin, who was murdered by Domitian. Even though she's normally just called Favonia, naming her Sosia was basically Falco's way of flipping off Vespasian and his entire family- especially since Falco always kept the evidence that Domitian killed Sosia, and could have used it at any time.
The Reveal: In The Accusers, the secret of the Metellus family turns out to be that Calpurnia Cara bore three children, two girls and a boy, and when the boy died, rather than admit the truth, she simply asked the babysitter to substitute one of the kids she was caring for. Even when the truth gets out, Negrinus' siblings accept him, but that's not the problem: the problem is that the adoption was never actually legal. Had Negrinus simply been adopted, everything would be fine, but his true parents are unknown, so he becomes an unperson: his marriage becomes illegal; he loses his rank, as do his children; he has no right to any of his property and he can't even use his name, as he has no legal right to it. Falco never finds out what happens to him, but he probably left Rome and tried to start over.
Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Falco's opinion of nouveau-riche freedmen, who are mostly ill-educated; many of them who appear in the series do not disappoint, for example the Hortensii from Venus in Copper.
Scars Are Forever: Vinius in Master and God took a spear to the face, leaving him with a ruined right eye and a lot of facial scars. He does see a doctor about them and gets an ointment to soften the skin, but essentially there's nothing more that can be done.
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 cemetery 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.
A blatant one to Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War in Shadows In Bronze; Falco is closely scrutinizing a scroll of it, both to brush up on it again, and to avoid the attention of two local roughs (given Falco's luck, this obviously fails). Falco opines that Julius Caesar is a good writer, but too self-absorbed and therefore not trustworthy.
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), the legal profession (The Accusers), and the building industry (A Body In The Bath House).
"Shut Up" Kiss: In The Silver Pigs; at Massilia, while escorting Helena Justina back to Rome, Falco attempts to resolve the romantic tensions that have built up between the two of them this way. His kiss is forced and feels flat, putting a damper on both their emotions. The second time he attempts to kiss her much later on is much more passionate.
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.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: Falco's relationship with Helena Justina starts off rather antagonistically, but it gets better.
Spin-Offspring: At the end of Nemesis, Falco's adopted daughter Albia sets up as an informer in his old office. The Ides of April picks up her story 11 years later.
Spiritual Successor: Master and God is basically the sequel to The Course Of Honour, though it's set over a decade later and uses almost none of the same characters. It follows the same themes (the rise and fall of Emperors and how Rome survives them) and the same arc plots (a man and a woman fall in love but cannot be together at first, but they are continually pulled into the Empire's struggles) and both end with the beginning of a new age for Rome: The Course of Honour ends with Vespasian as Caesar, taking Caenis as his lover, and Master and God ends with Domitian dead and Nerva the new Emperor as Vinius and Lucilla run for it.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Justinus and Veleda. They meet in the middle of a clusterfuck and get about five hours together; he then must go back to Rome, and has to leave her behind. By the time they meet again, he's married with a child and she's lost most if not all of her power and is a fugitive on the run- and at the end of it, she rejects him.
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.
Take That: An in-universe one, when Quinctius Quadratus dies (having previously accidentally got a friend killed and running out on said dying friend):
Because a man has to stick to his personal standards, I stayed with him until he died.
When Croton captured Sybaris (the original sin city, further round the Tarentine Bay), that Milo had celebrated by sprinting through the stadium with a bull across his shoulders, killing the beast with one blow of his fist, then eating it raw for lunch...
Two-Faced: Vinius took a spear to the face, leaving him with one horribly-scarred side and another that's almost perfectly intact.
Sea captain Laesus in Shadows in Bronze has a face that looks like a theater mask, one side smiling and the other sad. This foreshadows his betrayal of Falco and where his true allegiances lie—with Pertinax.
Unperson: Two examples: the first is in Two For The Lions: After Anacrites fights as a gladiator in an arena under a false name, Falco uses it against him constantly as if the truth got out, Anacrites would have effectively forfeited all right to his rank.
The second is Negrinus in The Accusers. After it's revealed that he's a Replacement Goldfish, a substitute that was brought in after the real Negrinus died, he loses all claim to his property, his rank and even his name, as he's not the real Negrinus- but he also has no idea who he really is.
The Untwist: In-universe example. In Alexandria, Falco, Helena and co go to Alexandria for two reasons: they want to see the Seven Wonders of the World, and since Falco's uncle lives there, it actually seemed like going to Egypt was a plausible idea. Everyone in the Museion, however, has heard of Didius Falco, the Emperor's man, and thinks he's there to do something involving bureaucracy, possibly involving replacing some of the high-ranking people there. He really hasn't, but after the Librarian dies, nobody is convinced.
Xanatos Speed Chess: Time To Depart. Petro's plan was easily seen through, but then the people who realised decided to use it for themselves, and adapted it, leading to their enemy to make his own plan, which Falco and Petro then had to figure out and counter...
Vigilante Execution: In Venus in Copper, when Falco's new apartment building collapses and kills the residents inside it (thankfully, Helena was away to buy bread), his flaky leasing agent Cossus was there at the absolute worst time. The crowd working to rescue residents and salvage the collapse beat him to death and crucify his body, mostly because the victims included a family with several young children.
Wham Line: "It's my brother-in-law." Famia was dead.
"Antonia Caenis is recently passed away."
'I turned the bone and read the name: LINUS.'
'On it were the initials T FL DOM- Titus Flavius Domitian, Vespasian's younger son.'
In addition: '...and stabbed her through the heart, with his pen. He was right, Sosia Camillina could not have expected that.'
"So who will she name next, Timosthenes?"
'We had found Statianus.'
'There is another person we know whose eyes are of the same colours: Anacrites.'
"That's not Maia!"
"Then, I had no doubt, Scilla had grabbed a spear and followed the lion into the garden. She had killed Leonidas herself."
"I still remember how I mixed the wine for him: I had killed Viridovix myself."
"Didius Falco, I am hoping," declared the Senator with significant formality, "you can tell me who has done me the honour of making me a grandfather."
Also: 'I knew this man. He was Helena's ex-husband; his name was Atius Pertinax. According to the Daily Gazette, he was dead too.'
What Could Have Been: Falco muses over the possibility of becoming Sosia Camillina's lover and instantly discounts it.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Early in The Silver Pigs, Sosia decides not to be a useless noblewoman who needs to be rescued and takes the initiative when she's kidnapped. As it turns out, she does need to be rescued, but that introduces her to Falco, who she decides will be her co-protagonist in bringing down a treasonous plot. Unfortunately, she takes the initiative too far and goes to investigate a possible location of stolen goods, and keep in mind, she's a teenager with absolutely no survival skills. If she'd been in a great adventure tale, Falco might have been able to find her location and get there fast enough to rescue her, but he gets held up through no fault of his own (he didn't quite receive the note in time, and his landlord sent thugs to beat him up for unpaid rent), and Sosia dies. Even if he'd been there, he probably wouldn't have been able to save her- Sosia was murdered because she stumbled into a key conspirator, Domitian, and saw his face. If Falco was there, Domitian probably would have ordered his death too.
Your Cheating Heart: Petro sleeps around a lot. It eventually destroys his marriage. It's also hinted that he's got at least one child out there who he has no idea about, the son of Aemilia Fausta.
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. This is, incidentally, why Falco sends money to her.