Friday, June 26, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis

I received this book free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I’ve been a fan of Lindsey Davis’ historical mysteries set in Ancient Rome since her Falco series. Having brought that series to a conclusion, Davis continued the informer motif with Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. The latest novel is The Grove of the Caesars.

Albia is settling in to her new role as wife of Tiberius, a soon-to-be-retired magistrate who is doing well at his new enterprise as a contractor. Doing very well considering that he was struck by lightning at their wedding and was addled for a while. The author has been sidelining him in the last couple of books, which is a shame. The interplay between Albia and Tiberius made the initial books more enjoyable. Now it’s pretty much a one-woman show. That may be necessary since the love-story subplot that helped to drive earlier books is difficult to sustain once the couple is domesticated.

Tiberius has been called away to see to his sick sister, leaving Albia in charge. She sees to his business interests and stumbles into two separate mysteries, both involving an imperial park, the Grove of the Caesars.

First, her husband’s work crew, who are remodeling a grotto, discover some unusual old scrolls hidden amongst the rocks. A little sleuthing convinces Albia they are forgeries. Nevertheless, her father (Falco, who is now an auctioneer) will be able to sell them to bibliophiles. She’s happy with that, but curious as to the identity of the forgers and what else they might be up to.

Second, and more significantly, she learns that for decades women have been raped and murdered in the park. Generally the women have been prostitutes, so the vigiles haven’t paid much attention. This time, however, the rapist nabbed the beloved wife of a wealthy, well-connected Roman citizen who demands justice. The vigiles snap to. Also, an enforcer working directly for the emperor, a man named Karus, who Albia has come across before, is called in. Karus believes in blaming the first likely candidate in order to placate the victims’ families. It doesn’t matter if an innocent man is executed as long as someone is. Albia has to find the real killer quickly.

Albia sorts through clues with her trademark cynicism and snark. She’s clever and determined. She’s used to solving murders, but these crimes are darker than usual, making her more world-weary. Also, she misses her husband and worries about her sister-in-law.

The mystery is well-plotted and Albia remains an intrepid detective, who brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. I hope to see more of Tiberius in the next book, but this is really Albia’s series and I’m still addicted to it, waiting to see where it goes next.