REVIEW: Deadly Election: A Flavia Albia Novel by Lindsey Davis
In the first century A.D., during Domitian’s reign, Flavia Albia is ready for a short break from her family. So despite the oppressive July heat, she returns to Rome, leaving them at their place on the coast. Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, the famed private informer (now retired), has taken up her father’s former profession, and it’s time to get back to work. The first order of business, however, is the corpse that was found in a chest sent as part of a large lot to be sold by the Falco family auction house. As the senior family representative in Rome, it falls upon Albia to identify the corpse, find out why he was killed, who killed him, and, most important, how did it end up in the chest.
At the same time, her potential young man, Faustus, comes looking for help with his friend Sextus’s political campaign. Between the auction business and Roman politics, it’s not quite clear which one is the more underhanded and duplicitous. Both, however, are tied together by the mysterious body in the chest, and if Albia isn’t able to solve that mystery, it won’t be the only body to drop.
Dear Ms. Davis,
I’m trying to catch up with this series before the next book is out so here I go reading book three in the Flavia Albia series. It’s Rome, it’s July, it’s hot and there’s a dead body that’s been left undiscovered for too long who needs to be identified and his death solved. On the bright side during the investigation, Falco’s daughter gets to hobnob a little with an interesting man who appears to be interested in her as well. If only two other aspects of the book hadn’t irritated me.
Picking up where “Enemies at Home” left off, Flavia Albia is back in Rome after a month long convalescence with her family that followed a shorter one in Rome. The man who saved her life has a favor to ask but first she needs to check into the dead body that her family’s auctioneers have found in a stout piece of furniture consigned to them by a wealthy family looking for quick cash. Whoever he was, he’s “gone off” in the 7-10 days that his body went unnoticed. The family denies all knowledge, the undertaker will need a strong stomach while he prepares the body for cremation and Flavia Albia doubts she’ll discover answers but feels compelled to try anyway.
Manlius Faustus, a Roman aedile and the one all Flavia Albia’s family consider to be her new young man, is helping a lifelong friend conduct his election campaign. There are myriad rules and niceties to be followed but let’s all be honest and admit that bribes and declaiming of dirt one has discovered about one’s competitors is what will carry the day. The unearthing of juicy tidbits to be flung at the opposition is Albia’s job. Things aren’t helped along by the fact that one of the other men is the brother of Faustus’s first – and divorced – wife, a woman who loathes Albia as much as Albia despises her.
Before too long though, things have gotten even trickier. A surprise at the auction complicates the investigation further, the candidates all seem to have something to hide and Faustus keeps getting interrupted just when he appears to be ready to make his move as his friend so charmingly puts it.
By now I know to expect several things in a Flavia Albia novel: the set up of the mystery will be relaxed and winding, there will be lots of characters and I’ll learn a bit about Flavian Rome along the way. Usually I don’t mind the way the story unfolds and actually enjoy the intricacies of the plot as all the seemingly disparate threads get woven together until I can see the whole picture. That’s part of the fun, watching Flavia Albia comb through the contacts, clues and then put these together with life in ancient Rome to arrive at whodunit.
Here though, two things kept me for quite some time from sinking happily into the story. The number of election candidates who are simultaneously dumped into the story along with numerous family members becomes an info dump. And keeping them separate in a world where so many families named their children the same thing or something similar was a challenge. If not for the little descriptors that (thankfully) were used by Flavia Albia herself to keep them straight, I would have been lost.
The other issue is one I found surprising – well, for me at least. Soaking up information about life in first century Rome has been my joy in this and the Didius Falco series. That information is here but a lot of it turned out to basically be street directions – Flavian Google Map as it were – that lost its appeal when I realized that it was more filler and not exactly necessary to follow the plot.
Now I have to say something.”
I went up to him. “Tell me tomorrow.”
“No. This is it. I wake every morning with my heart lightening because I may see you. I want to wake to find you there in my arms. I have to be with you.”
But – huzzah! – the main thing I was hoping for I got in sweet, subtle spades. Manlius Faustus does indeed settle down and get serious about telling and more importantly showing Flavia Albia just what he thinks of her while she realizes she’s found the man to give up her comfortable widowhood – along with all its freedoms – for. B/C+