In Davis’s Desperate Undertaking (Minotaur, July), series heroine Flavia Albia tracks a killer in Domitian’s Rome.
The Flavia Albia series is a spin-off from your original Marcus Flaco series. Why did you end the Falco series and switch to his adopted daughter, Flavia?
I’d written 20 Falcos, and everything in my life had changed. My partner died, my editor moved, and I was getting older and having to face it. And I realized I had just said everything that I had to say that was useful and interesting about Falco.
Was it hard to sustain a second series with the same setting?
No, I know the Roman world, and I love writing about it. I moved the setting forward 12 years, so everybody who was in the previous series has developed in some way. And Flavia’s a different voice because she’s a woman and because she comes from Britain, seeing Rome through an outsider’s eyes. Women in the Roman world couldn’t do absolutely everything that men could do, although I believe they could do more than the textbooks tell you. She always has to be conscious of the fact that she’s a woman, and she won’t be welcomed as much as a man would be, and she might have to escape being groped or worse.
What was the starting point for the plot of this book?
Vincent Price and his movie Theatre of Blood. He stars as an actor who is dissed by critics, and then kills them all off, using methods that Shakespeare uses. On the Roman stage, if a character had to die at the end, they were literally killed, and the slave or a criminal would be persuaded to take that part and would die in some fantastic way on stage. So that appealed to me as a story.
These sort of bloodthirsty spectacles were clearly attended by people, not just because they wanted to stay in the good graces of whoever was in power, correct?
I don’t think they went because the emperor would be upset if they didn’t. If you think even about modern society, why do people watch motor racing? Because they’re hoping for a crash. When soccer goes wrong, what happens? Fans violently attack each other. So I don’t think human nature has changed substantially. There were literary commentators who didn’t like the gladiatorial games. Seneca writes about having attended the games with gladiators, who were killing people all day, and he says how ghastly it is, especially in the first pit where the criminals are just put there to kill each other. He deplores it just as much as we would. So to say that then there was less sensitivity to human life I think is completely wrong.