Nemesis (Davis novel)

Nemesis is a 2009 historical mystery crime novel by Lindsey Davis and the 20th book of the Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries series.[1] Set in Latium during AD 77, the novel stars Marcus Didius Falco, informer and imperial agent. In Ancient Greece and Rome, Nemesis was the spirit of divine retribution against those who had succumbed to hubris (overweening self-pride). In the book, Falco is warned by Anacrites, the Imperial Chief Spy, to be wary of Nemesis following Falco's inheritance of his father's sizable fortune, while the Claudii, the novel's primary antagonists who meet unpleasant endings, are revealed to have fallen afoul of their own hubris.

AuthorLindsey Davis
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesMarcus Didius Falco
GenreHistorical mystery crime novel
PublisherMinotaur Books (Century)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback
Preceded byAlexandria 

Plot summary

The story, set in Latium in 77 AD, opens with the deaths of Falco's newborn son (posthumously named Justinianus), and Marcus Didius Geminus, alias Favonius, Falco's estranged father. Following the funeral, Falco is astounded to discover that his father has left him and the rest of the Didii family a sizeable fortune, but with one problem: before Geminus died, he impregnated Falco's friend Thalia and as a result, he is now forced to adopt Thalia's child when it is born.

Frustrated at this turn of events, Falco audits his father's business contacts, debtors and creditors, but soon discovers a debt owed which was never paid because the creditor in question, Julius Modestus, has disappeared. He travels to the towns south of Rome with his adopted daughter Albia (who is unhappy that Falco's brother-in-law Aulus has married someone else) to look for Modestus, but can't find him and pays off the debt owed to Modestus' nephew, Sextus Silanus (and to investigate the disappearance of Silanus' uncle), while his friend Lucius Petronius Longus, the captain of the vigiles in Rome's Twelfth District, finally discovers Modestus, who has been brutally murdered and eviscerated. A clan of Imperial freedmen in the Pontine Marshes, the Claudii (consisting of four siblings named Nobilis, Probus, Virtus and Pius; and their wives and female siblings) are implicated in Modestus' grisly murder but as Falco and Petronius investigate further, they attract the interest of the Imperial Chief Spy, Anacrites who, as usual, takes the case away from them.

Meanwhile, however, another victim emerges a courier is found murdered and mutilated in the same manner as Modestus, while Anacrites' behaviour begins to become more erratic (and suspect) even as Falco and Petronius (covertly) investigate the murders further, eventually discovering more victims and the murderers themselves too, who are none other than the four Claudii brothers. It is thus discovered that Modestus may have been killed by the Claudii for attempting to speak out against them. Falco and Petro' find Pius prowling around Falco's house and abduct him; failing to extract any information from Pius, they send him away to become a slave in a mine. Virtus and Probus are finally apprehended while Nobilis dies by falling upon the swords of Falco and his comrades.

Yet, after the Claudii are wiped out they surmise that the Claudii may have had a fifth brother who could be a co-perpetrator. The identity of this brother and his connections to Falco, his friends, and the imperial government are finally deduced; Falco and Petronius realise that Anacrites has been manipulating them all along. However, the Didii, Camilli (Falco's in-laws) and Petronii families realise that they know too much and their lives (and possibly even the ruling Flavians) are now perhaps threatened by this missing brother. Forced to make a difficult decision Falco and Petronius finally decide to take matters into their hands, conspiring to "send Nemesis to deal with him" once and for all, ending the novel and the series in a cliffhanger.

Major themes

  • Rural life in the Pontine Marshes region of Italy in the Roman era
  • Geminus' death, and its effect on Falco and his family fortunes (by way of inheritance)
  • Anacrites' personal history and backstory
  • Flavia Albia's emergence as an independent delatrix, anticipated in The Ides of April (2013)


  1. "Lindsey Davis article" (PDF). The Lindsey Davis Newsletter. Random House Publishing. January 2009. Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2018.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
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