REVIEW: Enemies at Home: A Flavia Albia Novel by Lindsey Davis
“There are rules for private informers accepting a new case. Never take on clients who cannot pay you. Never do favours for friends. Don’t work with relatives. If, like me, you are a woman, keep clear of men you find attractive.
“Will I never learn?”
In Ancient Rome, the number of slaves was far greater than that of free citizens. As a result, often the people Romans feared most were the “enemies at home,” the slaves under their own roofs. Because of this, Roman law decreed that if the head of a household was murdered at home, and the culprit wasn’t quickly discovered, his slaves—all of them, guilty or not—were presumed responsible and were put to death. Without exception.
When a couple is found dead in their own bedroom and their house burglarized, some of their household slaves know what is about to happen to them. They flee to the Temple of Ceres, which by tradition is respected as a haven for refugees. This is where Flavia Albia comes in. The authorities, under pressure from all sides, need a solution. Albia, a private informer just like her father, Marcus Didius Falco, is asked to solve the murders, in this mystery from Lindsey Davis.
Dear Ms. Davis,
Who are the “enemies at home?” Well the title is all about what happens in the story and who are the accused. I know I’m reading these backwards having started with “Graveyard of the Hesperides” and now jumping back by two books but still not at the start. But despite that, I still did just fine.
Flavia Albia has a new case thanks to Manlius Faustus with whom I know she has had a rocky professional start. Either because he thinks she can solve it or maybe because he thinks the crime is unsolvable so who cares if the female PI can’t crack it, he’s tossed it in her lap. Manlius Faustus is in a tricky situation and needs an out; he needs Flavia Albia to determine if nine slaves who have sought asylum in a Temple didn’t come to the aid of their master and mistress during a murder. Oh and who snaffled some pricey silver bits and bobs. The slaves claim drunkenness after a party and that they never heard any calls for help. Roman law says if a slave failed to save his master – the slave dies, painfully.
Lots of people will lie to Flavia Albia and she’ll change her opinion of some of them. Others won’t lie and Flavia Albia will reevaluate them too. But Roman justice needs to be seen being done. Can she untangle all the threads, stick her thumb in the eye of the vigiles and organized crime and keep her aedile – “he’s not my aedile” – in line?
It’s time to take another trip through 1st century Rome when the Emperor is paranoid and life is cheap – especially if you’re a slave. As Flavia Albia says – most of her cases involve spite, sexual betrayal, dishonesty or greed and this one is no exception. Life or horrible deaths (quite probably in the arena and involving lions) are on the line if she can’t prove that that the slaves aren’t innocent of the charges. There is certainly a lot in ancient Rome that was sordid and the book doesn’t shy away from that. Slavery was accepted and the lives of slaves usually weren’t pretty. Organized crime was rampant then as was sexism.
Flavia Albia doesn’t try to solve all this or crusade for changes. She is a part of her world – the good and the bad. She can misjudge people and even if her gut is telling her that someone isn’t telling the whole truth, there are times when it will take patience and, yes, luck to put all the pieces together.
Just like modern justice, the guilty won’t always pay while the injured aren’t guaranteed to get justice. Sometimes life just sucks. But Flavia Albia will doggedly keep going – wise cracking and cynically observing her fellow Romans as she works. Perhaps she’ll also keep forging a growing, working relationship with an aedile who could be one of the few honest men in Rome.
I love the little bits we hear of Helena Justina and Falco – now retired and mostly off stage for the whole book. Wait for the hilarious ladies morning drinking party and the stunned men who interrupt it. Enjoy Flavia Albia and Manlius Faustus working a stake-out but stay for Flavia Albia’s skill and determination to solve a crime that had me guessing until almost the very end. B