Sunday, March 15, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis

I’ve been an avid reader of Lindsey Davis’ historical mysteries set in Rome for many years, ever since the first Marcus Didius Falco novel, The Silver Pigs. Although I would continue to read Falco books forever, I do understand that they’d run their course and Davis was ready to move on. Falco is retired and the private informer business has been taken up by his adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. Falco’s influence (though not his actual person) hung lightly over the first book in the series, The Ides of April, but he is more conspicuously absent now. Flavia Albia has come into her own in book two of the new series, Enemies at Home.

Flavia Albia is twenty-nine years old and an independent woman who learned the business from the very best. She has support from a pair of uncles (Helena Justina’s brothers) when needed, and perhaps more importantly, she has an in with an important aedile, Manlius Faustus, with whom she has worked before. Faustus needs her help again.

A wealthy and influential Roman couple, newlyweds, have been found murdered in their bed. It is customary, if no other suspects are found, to hold the household slaves accountable and execute them for the crime. A cursory investigation by the local authorities failed to uncover any other leads. The slaves in the house therefore hied off to sanctuary in a temple across town. The temple is in Faustus’ jurisdiction, and the presence of the slaves is causing trouble. Either they are innocent, meaning the real murderer is still at large, or they are guilty and should be prosecuted. Either way, the inhabitants of the temple would like an excuse to boot them out. Faustus would like to get to the truth. And so would Albia.

Albia is a witty, intelligent detective who has inherited much of her father’s cynicism and charm as well as his skill in piecing together what’s what when a crime has been committed. She goes about her sleuthing in a no-nonsense fashion. At the same time, she is aware that something is going on between herself and Faustus, she’s just not sure what that is.

The mystery is absorbing and the cast of characters is entertaining. There is not quite the sense of danger that simmered under the surface in most of the Falco books. Albia seemed to have plenty of time to solve her murders. . .or not. She also had the option of admitting defeat, though clearly that was not her preferred option. So it was not as "high stakes" a murder mystery as others. Yet I was rooting for her to figure out whodunnit–I wanted to know. And the developing relationship between Albia and Faustus is enough to get me to return to read book three.

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