No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, June 05, 2016

2016/32: The Ides of April -- Lindsey Davis

As a female I had no rights at all in matters of law, but why let that stop me? [loc. 116]

I found the later Falco books hard going -- I think I'd missed a couple in the series, and lost track of the large cast -- but was in the mood for Ancient Rome, so decided to give the Flavia Albia books a try. Albia is the adopted British daughter of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina. At the beginning of The Ides of April, she is in her late twenties, a widow, living alone in the Aventine and working as a private investigator. As a woman, she has few rights, but Albia is stubborn and clever and determined. And -- essential in the turbulent, repressive society of Domitian's Rome -- she's cynical.

Albia investigates the case of a woman who died in strange circumstances, and discovers that there have been a number of similar, and similarly inexplicable, deaths all over the city. 'No explanations, and no mark on them.' She is helped by the dashing young archivist Andronicus, and eventually by the less dashing, less young Tiberius: the two do not like one another, for reasons that neither will explain to Albia. Both are connected with the aedile Manlius Faustus, who seems to be implicated in the deaths somehow.

Also, it's nearing the Cerialia -- the Games of Ceres -- in which wild foxes are burnt alive, respectable women dress in fake Hellenic costume, and there are more tourists than ever. (Albia does not like tourists.)

Quite a few reviewers have mentioned Albia's bitterness and cynicism, and the chip on her shoulder. I did not notice this, which may be because I am equally bitter and cynical! I rather liked Albia, who is adept at making the most of her limited opportunities and maintains her dignity despite some trying circumstances. And I find Davis' depiction of life as a woman in Imperial Rome wholly convincing.

For those expecting cameos from Falco et cetera, these are minimal and Davis -- rightly, I think -- doesn't linger on them. This is Albia's story, and I found it interesting enough to read the second one immediately after the first.

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