REVIEW: The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis
In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering—slowly—from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”
Adding to the confusion is yet another Nero pretender has shown up in Parthia and is trying to rally support for his claim for the throne. With intrigue upon intrigue swirling around the capital city, it’s up to Albia to uncover what is—and isn’t—the real threat.
Dear Ms. Davis,
I’m trying to get totally caught up with this series before the newest one arrives but probably will have to go back to the very beginning at a later time. But in the meanwhile, Flavia Albia and her new husband Manlius Faustus begin to set up their newlywed home. Of course that would be easier if Manlius Faustus hadn’t nearly been “done for” by what “did for” the villains in “Graveyard of the Hesperides.”
Albia and Manlius aren’t going to be able to keep to the schedule of a newly married couple the week after their ceremonial – they want to do it up right since the daughter of a former Informer and one who has taken up the profession herself is marrying an upright and respectable aedile – wedding. Much riotous fun was had by all – after all, wine was involved and this is the Didii clan – until an Act of the Gods nearly killed the groom. Manlius still isn’t quite back to his old, capable, laid back self and it’s up to Albia to bring in the cash needed to finish furnishing their new house and staffing servants.
As they have almost nothing to sit on, Albia reluctantly agrees to help the son of a former Palace intelligence bureaucrat in a quest that initially seems harmless, almost pointless if the truth is said – which Albia does. Her father, Falco, has always said dire things about working for the Palace – and he worked when Vespasian was alive, not the psychotic despot in charge now. Albia realizes early on that she’s going to regret accepting this commission.
Things soon get murky with spies and counterspies, a rejected wife, foreign dignitaries, a flute playing philosophical nephew, a senior but still deadly retired spy, a senior soldier in charge of where the torture sessions take place, bored Parthian females, a highly paid cithara player, a Parthian cat, Parthian dogs, mules, racing horses, a war elephant and someone whom Albia and her cohorts have to keep from being foisted on Rome at all costs.
I’ll be honest and admit that I almost lost a plot thread or two along the way. There are plenty of them and as usual, Albia has to put many tiny bits and pieces of information gained over the course of the story together in order for it all to finally fit into place. The ending is a rousing free-for-all with the Urban Cohorts wading into the melee along with several of the above mentioned people. Plus one character with a love of sugar cakes who brought down a villain and warmed the cockles of my heart. And even though Albia isn’t a cat person, I’m glad that a Parthian kitty who seems to resemble one of my feline overlords got away with a fighting chance. I also had fun learning new (to me) things about Rome.
With Manlius finally back to fighting form, we’ll see what the sappily happy married pair get up to next. B