REVIEW: The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis
Falco: The Next Generation––Flavia Albia has taken up her father’s profession. Only, now Rome is a more dangerous, mercurial place than it was back in dear old dad’s day . . .
Flavia Albia is the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina. From her mother, she learned how to blend in at all levels of society; from her father, she learned the tricks of their mutual professional trade. But her wits and (frequently) sharp tongue are hers alone.
Now, working as a private informer in Rome during the reign of Domitian, Flavia has taken over her father’s old ramshackle digs at Fountain Court in the Surbura district, where she plies her trade with energy, determination, and the usual Falco luck. Recently hired to help investigate a fatal accident, she finds herself stuck with a truly awful person for a client and facing a well-heeled, well-connected opponent.
That is, until her client unexpectedly dies under what might be called “suspicious circumstances.” While this is not a huge loss for society, it is a loss for Flavia Albia’s pocket. Even worse, it’s just one of a series of similar deaths for which she now finds herself under suspicion. Before things go from abysmal to worse, Flavia must sort out what is happening, and who is responsible, in Lindsey Davis’ The Ides of April.
Dear Ms Davis,
With the seventh novel in the series due out soon, of course I’m going back and reading the first of the Flavia Albia books now. Back to the beginning to see how the relationship I’ve been reading about got started.
As is so often in the life of a private investigator, Flavia Albia gets stuck with a client she doesn’t like or want. But given her determination to stand on her own and support herself, despite have parents with the wherewithal to do that for her, she takes the cases she, as a female PI, can get. Intending to see what the officials have discovered, she meets a personable young man at the aedile’s headquarters. Soon she’s shed of the client when the middle aged woman is found dead. “Natural causes” everyone says, though the woman had been healthy that morning. The undertaker mutters that there’s been a lot of this going around.
Before long, there’s another death – this time an older woman Albia had met at the first funeral. Now things are looking suspicious to her but what can be investigated? Two older women who died without any visible injuries or visitors to their homes? Albia isn’t one to shy away from a mystery regardless of whether or not the ham handed vigiles (who aren’t known for asking nicely) try and intimidate her off a case. Other cases begin to turn up but neither she, the vigiles nor the aedile’s (sometimes obnoxious) runner can link them. Until suddenly they can and the evidence points straight to someone far too close to the investigation.
As I read the story, I remembered why I hadn’t tried it when it was first released. Other reviewers had mentioned that even if it was Falco 2.0, it lacked Falco’s cheeky charm and the humor, though there, wasn’t up to the level I am used to. I’m glad that I waited until after I got hooked on the series before tackling it.
That being said, the descriptions of Rome are as vivid as I’ve come to expect with things explained in a way that tells me what I need to know without turning it into a pedantic history lesson. I especially enjoyed the wind up at the end with the Cerialias celebrations that allow plenty of scope and opportunity for hilarious hi-jinks and deadly danger.
I know a bit of Flavia Albia’s history as a street orphan adopted by Falco and Helena Justina. Her uncertain early life has marked and molded her as a woman who longs for family but also needs her space and to be in control. As someone who will never know her own origins and who was widowed early, she’s chosen to follow Falco’s profession as it lets her find truth and peace of mind for others.
I have to agree with other reviews which state that the identity of the killer becomes fairly obvious after a point. Flavia Albia has been a PI for eight years but as we see, she still has some learning to do despite her flippant statements that she is up on all the tricks. She knows about serial killers though. On the other hand, having watched a lot of shows and documentaries on the subject, I could nod my head and admit that this type of person can be persuasive and seem harmless. I did get annoyed at how long it took to finally snag him and how spirited Albia just had to go against all good advice.
The recreation of Imperial Rome is, as usual, impeccable. The characters are well developed even down to the tertiary level; Albia’s adopted brother is certainly intriguing though also slightly disturbing. I like that Albia’s problem solving skills are appreciated by several of the men involved in the case. Yet, her darker bitterness is something I’m glad has been eased somewhat as the series has advanced. C+