REVIEW: Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis
A suspicious death and subsequent murder send Flavia Albia down a twisted path to expose corruption and betrayal in Lindsey Davis’s next historical mystery.
First century Rome is not the quiet, orderly city that it pretends to be and in this environment, a very clever private informer can thrive. Flavia Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, is a chip off the old block. She’s taken over his father’s old profession, and, like him, she occasionally lets her love of a good puzzle get in the way of her common sense. Such is the case when one such puzzle is brought to her by the very hostile ex-wife of Albia’s new husband.
It seems that over on the Quirinal Hill, a naive young girl, one Clodia Volumnia, has died, and there’s a suggestion that she was poisoned by a love potion. The local witch, Pandora, would have been the one to supply such a potion. Looking into the matter, Albia soon learns that Pandora carries on a trade in herbal beauty products while keeping hidden her much more dangerous connections.
Albia soon discovers the young girl was a handful and her so-called friends were not as friendly as they should have been. The supposedly sweet air of the Quirinal hides the smells of loose morality, casual betrayal, and even gangland conflict. When a friend of her own is murdered, things become serious and Albia is determined to expose as much of this local sickness as she can—beginning with the truth about the death of little Clodia.
Dear Ms. Lindsey,
After the escapades of the last book involving Private Investigator Flavia Albia and her new husband Manlius Faustus, I was hoping they’d get a little quiet time to settle into marriage and enjoy the fact that the (despotic) Master and God of Rome is still out among the barbarians rather than terrorizing Roman citizens. Well this is a low-key plot without foreign intrigue but Albia and her husband aren’t going to be left alone to pick out curtains and argue over paint swatches.
Albia grits her teeth when Manlius Faustus’s superior first (ex) wife shows up and condescendingly offers Albia a (little) case to work on. Leaving him to deal with her and then show (boot) her out, Albia bunks off to count the kitchen towels. Only when she checks to make sure Manlius has pitched Laia out, she discovers he’s missing too. Not only that but he’s left his wedding and signet rings behind. Temporary amnesia seems to be a possible side effect of what happened to him two books ago with victims wandering off and sometimes assuming new lives. Unable to find him – which is embarrassing for an investigator, Albia decides to look into the mystery which that smug troublemaker pitched to her and Manlius.
The case is to discover what happened to a young woman found dead in her bed at her father’s house in Rome. The Vigiles’ report offers few clues and according to all who loved her, Clodia was a delightful fifteen year old with no enemies or reason to harm herself. There are whispers of a love potion she might have swallowed but why would she have drunk it rather than send it to the person in whom she was interested? Albia listens in to the conversations of Clodia’s vapid (and older) friends during the Ninth Day mourning feast and gathers that these spoiled young idiots know more than Albia can (currently) screw out of them.
Their parents aren’t much better – apples really don’t fall far from the tree – and Albia’s attempt to question the purveyor of fine facial creams to these rich women of the Quirinal only makes the water murkier. Pandora might earn her money via ritzy cosmetics now but her own grandson confirms to Albia that his family is not one most people outside of the Urban Cohorts or Praetorian Guard would wish to tangle with. In fact, Albia has had encounters with them before and knows the fate of those who cross the Rubirii.
Can Albia get the silly young twits to fess up to what actually happened the night Clodia died? Where is Manlius Faustus? And will this investigation end up sparking a vicious gangland war right when it appears that Domitian is headed back to Rome? Oh joy.
Once again Albia has to carefully sift through what people will admit to her and try and discover what they won’t. Most of the characters in this story are homegrown except for one interesting Egyptian fertility God who sidelines in helping to sell lettuce. There are characters I loved such as the joyful Iocundus and ones I could drop kick into the arena right as the lions are waking up and looking for a morning snack. Answers are found but those who yield them will have to eventually make peace with themselves over the part they played in the tragedy. But at least Albia does find her man and end up with a some great new servants (yay!) and a dog (still getting used to that). B