Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews yielded another gem: Lindsay Davis. As a longtime fan of novels taking place in ancient Greece and Rome, I was, for some time, very much caught up by Davis’ host of mysteries featuring “detective” Marcus Didius Falco (of which there are 20). Davis’ books are well-written, featuring inventive situations, engaging characters, and good, solid suspense. Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she eventually provided Falco and wife Helena Justina with an adoptive daughter who is carrying on in the family tradition–so glad to have a new “old” favorite to follow. She reviewed this one in March of 2014.
THE IDES OF APRIL – by Lindsey Davis
A Review by Marilyn Brooks
Flavia Albia, the heroine of the story, is a private informer, what today we would call a private eye. She is the adopted daughter of the well-known Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco. Abandoned as an infant, Flavia knows nothing of her biological family. Marcus and his wife Helena Justina found her wandering the streets of Londinium, Britannia, and brought her to civilization, to Rome. Flavia is now twenty-nine, a full Roman citizen, a widow, and following in her father’s business.
What brings Flavia into the case at the center of the book is the tragic death of a three-year-old boy who was run over by a builder’s cart. Flavia is hired by the owner of the building company to thwart the boy’s mother’s demand for compensatory payment. Although unsympathetic to the owner Salvidia, a female informer can’t be too choosy when it comes to jobs, so Flavia takes the case.
After doing so, she reads a notice asking any witnesses to the accident to come forward. Intrigued, Flavia goes to the Temple of Ceres, the headquarters of Manlius Faustus, the aedile (magistrate) for this area of Rome, to get more information. Not having any luck at the Temple, she goes to his office where she meets Andronicus, the aedile’s clerk, and sexual sparks fly between them. Andronicus tells her the aedile won’t assist her, but he lets her know that he’ll keep his eyes open to try to help.
Not having gained any insight into the case and disliking her client more and more, Flavia returns to the construction company to tell Salvidia that she is quitting. When she gets there, she is told by the woman’s servant that Salvidia is dead, having come home from the market, gone to bed, and then stopped breathing. Looking at the corpse, the only unusual thing the informer can see is a slight scratch on one of her arms, certainly nothing to cause death.
At Salvidia’s funeral the next day, Flavia meets the deceased’s neighbor, an elderly woman who concludes their conversation by saying, “You do what you can for her, dearie,” a statement Flavia interprets as the neighbor thinking that Savlidia died under suspicious circumstances. And the following day, the neighbor is dead.
The writing in The Ides of April is excellent, always told in Flavia’s voice. She can be empathic, as when she meets the family of another possible murder victim. “Lupus the oyster-shucker would not easily be forgotten; I thought never,” she says to herself as she sees the family’s grief. She can also be wry. “…and (the man) could only come if his son was not using the false leg that day. Assume I’m joking, if that comforts you.”
The Ides of April is the first in the Flavia Albia series. The Marcus Falco series by this author is twenty novels long, and I’m hoping for at least that many for Flavia. She’s a delight. Hopefully, she’ll keep poking her nose into Rome’s secrets.
You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this web site.
Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site
I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan. I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful. And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending. My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.