Nemesis (Davis novel)
Explanation of the novel's title
In ancient Greece and Rome, Nemesis was the spirit of divine retribution against those who had succumbed to hubris, or overweening self-pride. In the novel, the protagonist Falco is warned by Anacrites, the Imperial Chief Spy, to be wary of Nemesis, following Falco's inheritance of his father's sizeable fortune, while the Claudii, the primary antagonists of the novel, meeting unpleasant endings, are revealed to have fallen foul of their own hubris.
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 goes auditing 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. Pius is abducted by Falco and Petronius to be taken away as 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, even after the Claudii are wiped out, it is deduced that the Claudii may have had a fifth brother who could be a co-perpetrator. The identity of this fifth 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 that their lives (and possibly even the ruling Flavians) are now potentially 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 so far in a cliffhanger.
- Rural life in the Pontine Marshes region of Italy in the Roman era
- The death of Geminus, 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