I was delighted when I saw that Lyndsey Davis had launched a series featuring Falco's adopted daughter as an informer in imperial Rome.
I cau..Show More »ght the Falco bug in 2002 when I found "The Silver Pigs" about ten years after everyone else. I snorted down the first four books that year and then settled down to read one or two books a year thereafter. Last year I read "Nemisis", the twentieth, last and the darkest book in the series, where Falco finally has to replace flippancy and stubborn insubordination with grim responsiblity. He had become a Roman of substance, with things to lose and lies to hide. His days as an informer were clearly over. I regretted his passing but thought that Lyndsey Davis had done the right thing by him.
"The Ides of April" is set more than a decade later, The child Thalia was pregnant with in "Nemisis" is now an eleven year old boy. Falvia Albia is a twenty-eight year old widow and has been an informer for a number of years. Falco has "retired" to being an art dealer.
This gives everytihng a fresh start while providing enough continuity that I didn't feel set adrift. It really is "Falco: the next generation".
The plot here is clever and artfully told. Some of the pre-figuring is a little heavy-handed, making certain "reveals" a non-event but on the whole it adds to the light-hearted tone. There is a, perhaps inevitable, "Episode 1 Season 1" feel to the book but it promises well for the future.
I had two problems with the book: mixed feelings about Flavia Albia herself and mixed feelings about the narrator, I'm sure the two are related.
Flavia Albia is a misfit, neither fully Roman nor truly outsider. She is educated, ethical and cares for animals and small childern. She is also violent, well aware of the threats to women in Roman law and Roman manners, and almost insanely determined to put herself in harms way.
This conflicted nature was mirrored by the approach of the narrator. She read skillfully, coping with dialogue and action well, but, in a story told in the first person, the voice of the narrator BECOMES the character and I couldn't reconcile the upper class accent with the foul mouthed cynicism and violent behaviour. But perhaps that was the point.
I ended the book feeling entertained and wanting to read more but still uncertain about whether I liked Flavia Albia.
When I finished “The Ides Of April”, the first book in this Falco-the-next-generation series, I wasn’t sure that I liked Flavia Albia because I found ..Show More »her distant and rash, setting out to find trouble.
In “Enemies At Home”, I began to like her a little better.
I enjoyed her insider/outsider status. She is far more of an outsider than her adopted father, Falco, plebeian turned citizen and art dealer, ever was: a woman, a non-Roman orphan, a widow without a household and carrying on the disreputable profession of Informer. Her outsider status manifests in a lower sense of entitlement than Falco had and a deeper understanding of the threats that Roman laws and traditions hold for her.
Yet Flavia Albia is not a total outsider. Her uncles are Senators, her mother is a Patrician, Flavia Albia herself is a landlord (albeit a low rent one) and she is able to mix on equal terms with Aediles and Tribunes. Her insider status manifests in a willingness to take on those in authority, including the ones in authority in the local criminal underworld, that gets her into more trouble than her outsider status.
What made me warm to Flavia Albia in “Enemies At Home” was her willingness to slaves as people and not just as property. Slaves are the enemy at home, outnumbering their masters, having access to the most intimate details of their owner’s lives and present at their most vulnerable moments. Fear of what slaves might do if things turned sour resulted in Roman laws that defaulted to executing all slaves associated, however indirectly, with any act of violence towards their masters.
“Enemies At Home” tells of Flavia Albia’s investigation into the murder, apparently by their slaves, of a newly married couple. She sets out to prove that the slaves didn’t do it.
Her investigations provide an insight into the lives of slaves and the curious relationship they have with their masters: on the one hand, the slaves are part of the household and intimately involved in its operation, on the other hand they are property that can be bought or sold in the same way as a horse or a cow. Flavia Albia herself is cast in the role of (temporary) slave master when she is given a young man to “look after her” for the duration of the investigation. She handles it in a very human way: making mistakes, feeling frustration, but never losing sight of dealing with another person, with thoughts and emotions of their own.
This is a pleasing whodunnit, with a wide range of potential evil-doers, enough surprises along the way to keep life interesting and a denouement that is both credible and hard to foresee. The home in which the crimes took place is described so well that I felt I had spent time sitting in the chairs in the courtyard. My favourite scene in the book occurs there: Flavia Albia sitting with three other woman, a mixture of suspects and victims, drinking wine, building a rapport and then being discovered by two male visitors. The friendly way in which these women from disparate backgrounds interacted felt real and timeless. The fact that Flavia Albia, even in an apparent moment of wine-induced intimacy, is still investigating covertly, told me a great deal about who she is and how she thinks.
In this book, although Flavia Albia keeps her independence of spirit, her ability to engage in banter with authority figures and her willingness to confront those more powerful than she is, she seems a little more vulnerable than in the first book. Perhaps she’s just a little older. Perhaps she is just taking on more serious enemies. Whatever the reason, I liked her more for it.
The book ends with dramatic events, occasioned by a reckless but plausible error in judgement by Flavia and ending with an intimate intervention that may change Flavia’s relationship with her family and with the Aedile that she has been working with.
This increased my sense of Flavia’s vulnerability and, I suspect, sets up the relationships for the next book, “Deadly Election”, which is now on my (still growing faster than I can read them) TBR book pile.
Obviously this is not a hard hitting detective story, but I giggled all the way through this novelette. A very authentic feeling and charming tale of ..Show More »pre-adolescent destruction - too clever Ms Davis!
I loved the Falco books, and the Albia books are just as wonderful although quite different in tone. The strong stories are matched with strong charac..Show More »ters. They are so familiar, it's like catching up with family. My only quibble is the narrator made Petro sound like a pompous old fox-hunting fool.
Albia is not the sulky teenager of old ( she did have some justification), but an intelligent resourceful and independent woman- just as well after th..Show More »e sad death of her first husband, the clumsy, loveable Lentulus, and the lightning strike which hit her new bridegroom on their wedding day! She finds herself working, indirectly,for the appalling Emperor Domitian (he's out of town, to everyone's delight) unravelling a complex conspiracy to present an imposter as Nero risen from the dead. Albia draws on the strengths of her extended family, those cousins we knew as children, old associates and opponents of Falco and Petronius, to investigate a plot more intricate than anything Le Carré dreamed up - plus camels, elephants, seraglio - and Falco's dodgy play having its second performance!