Thursday, May 30, 2024

BOOK REVIEW: Death on the Tiber by Lindsey Davis

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

I’ve been following the Flavia Albia Roman mystery series since Book 1, The Ides of April. And before that, I read all of Lindsey Davis’ Falco series. So I was eager to read the latest, Death on the Tiber. While the mystery is very clearly Albia’s to solve, Falco and his friend Petronius Longus jump in to help – and it is a delight to meet up with them again.

The tale begins when the corpse of a woman is dredged up from the Tiber, and identified as Claudia Deiana, from Britain. She was the mistress of a well-known Roman gangster named Florius. Albia is determined to find out why the woman had come to Rome. And why she was killed. Albia feels a sense of duty to the unfortunate victim because she, too, originally came from Britain. Moreover, she knew Florius. He ran a crime ring in Londinium, centered on brothels. When Albia was a young orphan, he trapped her, raped her, and tried to install her in one of the brothels. Fortunately for Albia, she was rescued by Falco, adopted, and brought to Rome. Florius is back in Rome, and Albia has a score to settle.

The novel starts slowly as the backstory is established. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, most of whom were seen in previous books, so it does all fall into place. A list of the cast is given at the beginning of the story to help. It’s probably best to have read earlier books to get the full impact of this one.

The mystery of the dead woman is just a small part of the story. Albia finds herself back investigating the dangerous gangs warring for primacy in Rome. One of the main patriarchs has just died, so there is a good deal of jockeying for power (think The Godfather), and all this violence muddies the waters.

Albia is supported by her father (Falco), her uncle (Petronius), her long-suffering husband (Tiberius), and some high-up muckety-muck who appears in deus-ex-machina style to help her sort things out. I feel like this guy must have figured in one of the previous books, but couldn’t place him – one of the disadvantages of having so many characters to keep track of over so many books. For me, the story would have been more satisfying without this secret character. He goes only by a pseudonym, Titus, and his position, Princeps Peregrinorum, and it was a bit frustrating to have them chat so coyly together and not be able to place who he was and why he and Albia were so cozy. Other longtime fans will likely have a better memory than me.

Albia does her usual grand job of gathering information, working in tandem with the authorities, and chasing down her suspects. Her voice, cynical, snarky, intelligent, funny, and at times, loving, make it fun to follow her along as she investigates.