REVIEW: A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsey Davis
In Rome, 89 A.D., poisonings, murders, and a bloody gang war of retribution breaks out during the festival of Saturnalia, and when her husband, Tiberius, becomes a target, it’s time for Flavia Albia to take matters into her own hands — in Lindsey Davis’s next historical mystery, A Comedy of Terrors.
Flavia Albia, daughter and successor of private informer Marcus Didius Falco is twiddling her thumbs with no clients during the December festival of Saturnalia. But that doesn’t mean all is quiet. Her husband Tiberius and the Fourth Cohort are battling organized crime interests that are going to war over the festival nuts. A series of accidental poisonings, then bloody murders of rival nut-sellers, and finally a gruesome warning to Tiberius from the hidden criminal powers to back off.
Albia has had just about enough and combines forces with Tiberius to uncover the hidden criminal gangs trying to worm their way into the establishment at a banquet of the emperor Domitian.
Dear Ms. Davis,
I’ve come to expect that when I read one of your books, I’ll get to easily learn an endless amount of new information about Imperial Rome as well as get an entertaining (usually murder) mystery solved. “A Comedy of Terrors” didn’t disappoint. Plus there is much more Helena Justina and Falco so yay.
As this one kicked off, I was at first bemused that it seemed to focus on the domestic hijinks going on in the household of Tiberius Manlius and Flavia Albia. In the short time of their marriage, they have collected quite the motley assortment of staff and family. Somehow the household manages to lurch forward in a fairly straight line but one can never be sure what will happen next. Then finally! a murder occurs and Albia can’t keep herself from nosing into it especially as her husband and the Fourth Cohort vigiles investigator appear to be more interested in nasty nuts that have been making people in the Aventine sick.
There is a fair amount of telling as Flavia Albia fills the reader in on various things about Rome and the wonderful Roman holiday fast approaching – Saturnalia when Rome explodes in a week of gift giving, family seeing, grudge inducing, party hardying. As Albia investigates a case which has been thrust upon her involving a disgruntled wife, the nut situation – and the people behind it – grows worse. When charged, organized crime bosses usually have their defense lawyers at the ready while witnesses magically disappear, right? Not so fast this time.
As the full severity of the cases and criminals facing them slowly developed, I sat back and savored all the nifty tidbits of Roman life coming my way. Yes, Flavia Albia was in her usual and wonderful snarky form and ended up telling a lot of background information as she took us through the streets of Rome but the way this is conveyed is just so darn entertaining, interesting, and effortless that I didn’t mind what is basically a history lesson without the lecture.
The characters are all nicely developed and even sulky slaves (using the term employed in the book), donkeys, loan sharks, bath house owners, and party entertainers are memorable. I loved watching Albia and Tiberius’s continuing partnership in marriage and crime solving. Each is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the other and, coming to this marriage after previous ones – plus being slightly older, they’re wiser thus working together beautifully.
The twists and turns of the cases are at first separate then slowly, threads begin to get tangled as links start to appear. What might seem at first to be casual encounters or just nice background information about the time or place needs to be cataloged and filed away. Some things I quickly caught onto but a few bits came back in ways I didn’t expect or remember which was delightful. Justice is served to those to most deserve it while others will be mourning the wreckage of their professional and private lives. But even though I knew Tiberius and Albia would get their suspects in the end, the way this happened for one was terrible (but justified) retribution while the other took me completely by surprise and made me laugh out loud. I loved this ending! B+