REVIEW: A Capitol Death by Lindsey Davis
In Rome, ruled by the erratic Emperor Domitian, Flavia Albia is dragged into the worst sort of investigation—a politically charged murder—in Lindsey Davis’s next historical mystery, A Capitol Death.
A man falls to his death from the Tarpeian Rock, which overlooks the Forum in the Capitoline Hill in Ancient Rome. While it looks like a suicide, one witness swears that she saw it happen and that he was pushed. Normally, this would attract very little official notice but this man happened to be in charge of organizing the Imperial Triumphs demanded by the emperor.
The Emperor Domitian, autocratic and erratic, has decided that he deserves two Triumphs for his so-called military victories. The Triumphs are both controversial and difficult to stage because of the not-so-victorious circumstances that left them without treasure or captives to be paraded through the streets. Normally, the investigation would be under the auspices of her new(ish) husband but, worried about his stamina following a long recovery, private informer Flavia Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, steps in.
What a mistake that turns out to be. The deceased proves to have been none-too-popular, with far too many others with much to gain from his death. With the date of the Triumphs fast approaching, Flavia Albia must unravel a truly complex case of murder before danger shows up on her own doorstep.
Dear Ms. Davis,
As we get deeper into this series, I’m seeing a lot of the same out of Flavia Albia. Her cynicism, her slow and methodical pursuit of solving a murder mystery, and her love of her husband Manlius Faustus. Sometimes these come together to produce a book that catches my interest from the start and sometimes the book has to grow on me. This book is a case of “growth needed.”
Once again Albia is handed a case no one else wants to deal with. Here there are questions about whether or not a murder actually happened. On top of that, all officialdom in Rome are currently tied up with producing their Lord and Master’s double triumph to celebrate his “victory” over the latest of Rome’s enemies. Everything must go perfectly or paranoid Domitian will exact revenge on … well, anyone. So world weary at age twenty-nine, Albia sets to work.
In the last few books, it has taken a while to set up all the details about who was done in and the circumstances under which they copped it. As usual, there are lots of descriptions of ancient Rome – some of which are actually useful to the story and some of which I’ve learned to skim over. Albia knows her Rome and her snarky take on it is amusing and puts me right there in the action – seeing the sights, smelling the smells, experiencing the glory (and nastiness) that was Rome.
But as other reviewers have said, all this wealth of detail doesn’t completely hide the fact that there really isn’t much going on here. Another huge cast of characters are introduced – some of whom will be important while others are just stage props. Details are woven in but there are a fair amount of red herrings as well. Still, I managed to put together the clues far ahead of Albia.
I do admire how Albia latches onto a truly unique salvation as the killer charges after her, determined to silence her. I like how not all the household of Manlius Faustus are “characters.” Yay, that Albia finally acknowledges that the “not my dog” is actually her dog. But I do worry that Manlius Faustus might end up facing Domitian’s wrath though I’m getting tired of Albia’s nonstop ranting about the Emperor. “A Capitol Death” finally snagged my attention and I read it quickly after about the 75 page point but overall it’s not one of the better entrants in the series. C+