BOOK REVIEWS: Writer Resists Lure of Screen; Birminghamborn Writer Lindsey Davis Has Made the Romans Sexy in Her Historical Novels

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Byline: By HANNAH STEPHENSON

Roman history may once have seemed a dry subject - but in recent years films like Gladiator and the BBC series Rome have thrown it into the spotlight again.

Yet best-selling historical novelist Lindsey Davis, whose stories are set in ancient Rome, has yet to see her characters brought to life on the screen in an authentic way. And frankly, that suits her just fine.

Lindsey, creator of the Falco novels set in ancient Rome in which her hero Marcus Didius Falco has tried to solve an array of murders, has so far resisted the offers of transferring him to the screen.

"One reason it's never happened is because I wouldn't want to write the screenplay. I'm not a scriptwriter."

However, a school friend of hers, Mary Cutler, writer of The Archers, has adapted Lindsey's books for radio and for the past three years the novels have been dramatised on Radio 4.

"Mary's scripts are true to the books so you get something recognisable, even if it is a shortened version."

It seems she's not the only one happy with the radio adaptation - in a recent Radio 4 Woman's Hour poll, Falco was voted the second sexiest fictional character after Rhett Butler.

"He thinks he's sexy," she says of Falco. "He has a certain something - wonderful eyes and a good sense of humour. And he's probably quite good in bed."

While Falco enchants her female readers, Lindsey's novels are difficult to categorise - they are historical detective stories that contain humour and romance.

She's won a clutch of awards, including the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger in 1998 and the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective the following year.

She doesn't use researchers because often she doesn't actually know what she's looking for.

It may be an aside, a minute detail of life in ancient Rome that catches her eye sufficiently to include in her novels.

"I'm showing ways in which they were like us and ways in which they weren't. It was probably very smelly. I'm supposed to be famous for my smells. There would have been smells of drains and animal dung everywhere and I'm given to describing that."

Lindsey, 57, who was brought up in Birmingham and then read English at Oxford University, started her literary career writing romantic historical fiction.

She had always been interested in history and archaeology and finally decided to write a novel within an ancient Roman setting. Initially publishers were reluctant and she says that had it not been for the hit TV series I Claudius in the 70s the Falco books might have never taken off the way they did. Her research is always meticulous.

"I concentrate on the archaeological side a lot. I go to museums, archaeological sites and I read ancient Latin authors in translation, and anything to do with the ancient Roman world. …