Flavia Albia is the daughter (adopted) of Falco, Lindsey Davis’s original serial Ancient Rome informer. Flavia Albia is a chip off the old block. Having worked through 20 Falco books, reviewing the later ones (I started in the 1990s probably), I started on Flavia Albia and liked what I saw. So, this follows on from the last two I reviewed a few months ago. In the right order, this time 😉
A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia #7)
by Lindsey Davis
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.
I started this book feeling that it was rather over-full of descriptive elements. Especially the detail of Domitian’s Triumph – a glorious procession full of protocol and tradition. As background, it works, but eventually you discover you needed to know all this to keep up with who’s who. And I pretty much did. Considering the number of people in this book, and the possibility of mixing up names like Gemellius and Gemella, and plenty others like that, I did well.
Mostly this is because they are well characterised. Sometimes I think Lindsey Davis can tend towards stereotypical sidekicks. This time, they are very distinctive, especially the augurs and the different hierarchies of troops/police/law-enforcers.
The customary map of the site of interest – the Capitol and the Arx – hills of Rome crowned by temples and associated buildings like libraries, and goose enclosures (sacred geese) helps. Actually, I have given up on visualising the places from the map. But this one seemed more easily absorbed than some. I loved the foray into sacred goose husbandry – they play their part well. This includes Falco’s views on them.
But the main issue was the murder(s) from the Tarpeian Hill, part of the Capitol complex. And a complex investigation this proved to be. I always seemed to be one step ahead of the red herring Flavia had sent herself down. It was definitely a compulsive read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Grove of the Caesars (Flavia Albia #8)
by Lindsey Davis
Too many people tell Flavia Albia, ‘Don’t go to the Grove’. Such warnings will only lure her to the place she is warned away from, Julius Caesar’s Gardens, where she finds more than one intriguing mystery.
Someone has buried tattered scrolls here, by unreadable ancient philosophers. Hardly has she taken an interest in what looks like book collecting fraud, when far worse happens. A present evil stirs in the undergrowth. A man holds a birthday party that goes terribly wrong, exposing a long series of neglected crimes.
Albia learns that a serial killer has haunted the gardens and grove for years targeting women. It isn’t her place to investigate; that’s the job of a dubious vigiles cohort, beefed up by the sinister imperial agent, Julius Karus who she thinks is vile. But sympathy for the dead women and their grieving relatives resonates with Albia. Even if she has to work with Karus, nothing will stop her until the serial killer in the sacred grove is at last caught and brought to justice.
It’s a good setting, and a good plot. But either I’ve read too many Flavia Albia mysteries this year, or the padding in them is getting more long-winded, and more repetitive. Not that I think the author has given us this side of Rome before. But maybe I have already complained about information dumping, and too many pages with no advancement of the story.
There is an air of unwholesomeness that hangs over this particular story. The vigiles ignore serial murders not just of women of the streets, but of any woman. No action is taken to discover the perpetrator in spite of comparative wealth and status. Then this one comes along, and they are forced to act. And furthermore, Flavia’s husband is away dealing with the consequences of a difficult pregnancy for his sister.
I feel depressed just thinking about it. I hope the next one has more fun about it. Well, it may be, given who her husband brought home with him (which was no surprise).Book Reviews | Flavia Albia catch-up 7,8; Reviews of A Capitol Death and Grove of the Caesars. Too much information dumping, but good plots and great, if depressing, atmosphere #FlaviaAlbia #LindseyDavis #ancientRome Click To Tweet