Posts Tagged ‘ancient Rome’

PANDORA’S BOY by Lindsey Davis: Book Review

The ever-delightful Flavia Albia is back, informer par excellence.  Following in the footsteps of her adoptive father, Marcus Didio Falco, she is now a well-established informer (in ancient Rome, the term informer was used as we would use private investigator or detective today).  In addition, she is newly married to Tiberius Manlius Faustus, an aedile, or official, of the Roman Republic.

Both were married before.  Flavia was a young widow, Tiberius was divorced by Laia Gratiana.  But now Laia comes asking for help from Flavia for a family friend who has just experienced the death of her teenage daughter.

Clodia Volumnia had been found dead in her bed, and the aftermath of this tragedy is that her mother and father have separated and their mothers, Clodia’s grandmothers, actually have come to blows.  Reluctantly, because she hates to appear beholden to her husband’s ex-wife, Flavia agrees to meet with Clodia’s father to discuss the case.  Using the soft approach, Flavia tells him how sorry she is about the unexpected death of his only daughter and offers her professional assistance; he agrees to hire her.

The father, Volumnius Firmus, tells Flavia that Clodia simply went to bed one night while both her parents were out and didn’t wake up the next morning.  Firmus stresses what a good daughter Clodia was, but he admits that he was unhappy with her choice of friends.  They were several years older than she and possibly had not been a good influence on her.  In addition, she had seemingly developed a crush on one of the young men, and he belonged to a family not up to the Volumnius family standards, at least according to Firmus.

The streets of ancient Rome were filled with gossip, sexual behaviors, and violence that make it seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Certainly the behavior of Clodia’s family–the “perfect” daughter who turns out to be not quite so perfect after all, the mothers-in-law who cannot abide each other, the preoccupation of various people with substance over style–are not unfamiliar to modern readers.  Apparently human nature hasn’t change that much since 89 C. E.

As readers know from other books in the series, Flavia was found begging on the streets of Londonium when she was young and brought to Rome by Marcus and Helena.  Originally she was a nanny to their children, but they eventually adopted her and she became a free citizen of the Republic.  Also, Marcus and Helena were probably impressed by Flavia’s sense of self and her confidence.  “They soon saw I would not accept being treated like a slave….No one could impose on me.”  You admire and respect her throughout the novel.

When Flavia thinks about how she has become involved with sorcery and magic to find out the truth about Clodia’s death she comes to the conclusion that “There was no need of a blood relationship to inherit crazy behavior.”   As her adoptive father was always coming up with wild ideas that led him into trouble, “now so was I.”

Pandora’s Boy is the sixth novel featuring Flavia Albia; more than a dozen earlier novels featured her father as the protagonist.  Readers will enjoy both informers, but my heart belongs to Flavia.

You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

THE IDES OF APRIL by Lindsey Davis: Book Review

“The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” are the lines that Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1845.  There is grandeur in Lindsey Davis’ The Ides of April, and there are also appealing characters, great writing, and a terrific plot.

Flavia Albia, the heroine of the story, is a private informer, what today we would call a private eye.  She is the adopted daughter of the well-known Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco.  Abandoned as an infant, Flavia knows nothing of her biological family.  Marcus and his wife Helena Justina found her wandering the streets of Londinium, Britannia, and brought her to civilization, to Rome.  Flavia is now twenty-nine, a full Roman citizen, a widow, and following in her father’s business.

What brings Flavia into the case at the center of the book is the tragic death of a three-year-old boy who was run over by a builder’s cart.  Flavia is hired by the owner of the building company to thwart the boy’s mother’s demand for compensatory payment.  Although unsympathetic to the owner Salvidia, a female informer can’t be too choosy when it comes to jobs, so Flavia takes the case. 

After doing so, she reads a notice asking any witnesses to the accident to come forward.  Intrigued, Flavia goes to the Temple of Ceres, the headquarters of Manlius Faustus, the aedile (magistrate) for this area of Rome, to get more information.  Not having any luck at the Temple, she goes to his office where she meets Andronicus, the aedile’s clerk, and sexual sparks fly between them.  Andronicus tells her the aedile won’t assist her, but he lets her know that he’ll keep his eyes open to try to help.

Not having gained any insight into the case and disliking her client more and more, Flavia returns to the construction company to tell Salvidia that she is quitting.  When she gets there, she is told by the woman’s servant that Salvidia is dead, having come home from the market, gone to bed, and then stopped breathing.  Looking at the corpse, the only unusual thing the informer can see is a slight scratch on one of her arms, certainly nothing to cause death.

At Salvidia’s funeral the next day, Flavia meets the deceased’s neighbor, an elderly woman who concludes their conversation by saying, “You do what you can for her, dearie,” a statement Flavia interprets as the neighbor thinking that Savlidia died under suspicious circumstances.  And the following day, the neighbor is dead.

The writing in The Ides of April is excellent, always told in Flavia’s voice.  She can be empathic, as when she meets the family of another possible murder victim.  “Lupus the oyster-shucker would not easily be forgotten; I thought never,” she says to herself as she sees the family’s grief.  She can also be wry.  “…and (the man) could only come if his son was not using the false leg that day.  Assume I’m joking, if that comforts you.”

The Ides of April is the first in the Flavia Albia series.  The Marcus Falco series by this author is twenty novels long, and I’m hoping for at least that many for Flavia.  She’s a delight.  Hopefully, she’ll keep poking her nose into Rome’s secrets.

You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site.