First of a new series of crime novels set in Ancient Rome and featuring Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of much-loved Marcus Didius Falco.
Based on real historical events: mysterious poisonings, in which victims died, often unaware they had been attacked. Albia is now 28 and an established female investigator. Her personal history and her British birth enable her to view Roman society and its traditions as a bemused outsider and also as a woman struggling for independence in a man’s world.
The first novel takes place on the plebeian Aventine Hill, with its mix of monumental temples, muddy back lanes and horrible snack bars. We meet Albia’s personal circle – some familiar, some new. We glimpse old haunts and hear of old friends, but the focus is on Albia herself, a tough, witty, winning personality who fearlessly tackles inhumanity and injustice, braving any risks and winning the friendship of unexpected allies.
Lindsey Davis, historical novelist, was born in Birmingham, England in 1949. Having taken a degree in English literature at Oxford University (Lady Margaret Hall), she became a civil servant. She left the civil service after 13 years, and when a romantic novel she had written was runner up for the 1985 Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, she decided to become a writer, writing at first romantic serials for the UK women's magazine Woman's Realm.
Her interest in history and archaeology led to her writing a historical novel about Vespasian and his lover Antonia Caenis (The Course of Honour), for which she couldn't find a publisher. She tried again, and her first novel featuring the Roman "detective", Marcus Didius Falco, The Silver Pigs, set in the same time period and published in 1989, was the start of her runaway success as a writer of historical whodunnits. A further nineteen Falco novels and Falco: The Official Companion have followed, as well as The Course of Honour, which was finally published in 1998. Rebels and Traitors, set in the period of the English Civil War, was published in September 2009. Davis has won many literary awards, and was honorary president of the Classical Association from 1997 to 1998.
I have always loved Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco books, and was deeply saddened when she stopped writing them. As a writer, I can see that after 20 book the series might be wearing a bit thin for her, but as a reader I wanted MORE! So I was delighted to see her starting a new series, in which Flavia Albia takes over her father’s old P.I. business. It not only brings back a wise-cracking P.I. who’s also an ancient Roman—female!—but it lets us get glimpses of the other characters we love through Flavia’s eyes.
As mysteries go, I did think that at one point Davis made the killer’s identity a bit too obvious—even to me, and I’m usually oblivious to who the killer is. (I’ve got a couple of smart friends, who unravel my own mysteries the moment I drop the first clue.) But she’s also got a secondary mystery going, and I was quite proud of myself for solving that one. But for me, it’s more voice and character that make a mystery, and Ides of April has that in spades. I leave you with Flavia’s description of her not-so-beloved 11-year-old brother:
Venusia flapped around, trying to distract me by querying whether my dear little boy would like some fruit juice or a bowl of raisins. Postumus has never been a child who accepted juice from nagging women who treated him like a three-year-old. Even when he was actually three he behaved like an old man, an old man who had several wives buried out under the woodhouse floor with hatchets in their heads. He gave Venusia his stare, the one that asked openly why did this stupid woman not know all he wanted was to be allowed to go into the sacred woods and find a hedgehog to dismember as bloodily as possible.
I’m something of a fan of Postumus—and a big, newly fledged fan of Flavia Albia. Another 20 books please?
Even a truly superlative author can disappoint sometimes, though it's taken Lindsey Davis decades to do so. The first couple of chapters in this new series were enjoyable, with the crisply sarcastic voice of Flavia Albia, the now-adult British (Albion, hence Albia) adoptee daughter of Lindsey Davis' wonderful Roman informer, Marcus Didius Falco and his noble wife Helena Justina. But pretty soon that voice seems to take over, endlessly, interrupting story flow. She sachets this way and that with her first-person descriptions of Rome and opinions of everything in Albia's reach - great writing technique, but not in profusion. I found it hampered my connecting with her. Somehow, Ms. Davis seems to have lost hold of what it was she wanted to do with a female investigator, particularly this one, in Imperial Rome.
The killer was fairly obvious early on, and a couple of key supporting characters didn't come off the page as their descriptions suggested they should. "Oh," I found myself thinking, "remember, he's NOT her back-handed friend???" There is one character who works, and works out, very well though, and provides a sizeable surprise twist toward the end. And certainly Davis is a dab hand at handling scenes of action, though, again, in this case, too much verbiage slows it all down and the comedy of it dies.
I love the Falco series and its writing too much to give up on this series after just one production. So here's hoping book two of the Flavia Albia series lives up to its family history.
I'll just give you a moment to adjust to the fact that I read an actual adult novel. I do that sometimes. It's probably more shocking that I read a mystery novel. Mysteries don't interest me that much, generally, but I've always liked Lindsey Davis's Falco books. They're sharp, funny, and well-researched. I'm in it for classical Rome and Helena Justina; the mystery is beside the point. I can't even tell you if they're good mysteries or not. They're fun books, and that's enough.
This one wasn't as fun as usual, and it bothered me significantly at first, but I was won over in the end. I guess Davis feels she's gone as far as she can with Falco himself, and I have to admit the books have gotten tamer and more predictable as he got older, got married, had children, acquired a decent house, came into some money. Falco was domesticated over time, as are we all, I suppose.
Here, Davis is trying for a fresh start with Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. This was a bit of a gamble, in my opinion: I've always considered Albia a mopey grump, and not really someone I'd care to follow for any length of time. The early parts of this book confirmed that bias, I'm afraid. She spends a lot of time alone, gathering her thoughts, sulking, being a loner.
But y'know what? She grew on me.
The key point to remember, going in, is that she's NOT Falco. She's her own person, prickly and grumpy, cynical and naive, tough and tender-hearted by turns. She glosses over every single meeting with her parents, and that's frustrating at first, but eventually I began to understand. This is HER book, not theirs. There's something so real in that impulse to distance herself. She may not be likeable, but there's no question by the end that she's real.
The other thing that really interested me (and this doesn't come out until the end) is that there are two mysteries in this book. There is the main murder mystery, which I had rather mixed feelings about. I figured out who the killer was way before Albia did. This did enhance the suspense - because she was in danger without realizing it, and I was squirming and unable to warn her - but I'm still not sure whether it was deliberate or not.
The OTHER mystery, though. You don't even know it's there, and then there's this reveal at the last moment and you realize the clues were there all along. That was a good deal of fun, piecing together all these pieces that I'd given no thought to, absorbed as I was by the main murder mystery. It was cleverly done, I thought, and ended the book on this lovely, unexpected bittersweet note.
Sometimes I do think writing has spoiled reading for me. I'm always looking for the marionette strings, y'know? Also, the things my editor would never have let me get away with (and there are a bunch in this book!). So when something genuinely catches me flat-footed, the way this final reveal did, well. That's worth its weight in gold.
Read this book in 2013, and its the 1st volume of a new mystery series featuring Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of the famous Marcus Didius Falco, from the author, Lindsey Davis.
The mystery is set in the year AD 89, and we find our main protagonist, the sharp-minded and witty female investigator, Flavia Albia, on the Aventine Hill in Rome.
Struggling for independence in a man's world she wants to survive by investigating difficult and dangerous cases, just to prove herself to various people that she's really capable in doing this kind of work.
The story is based on historical facts concerning poisonings, and these same poisonings are greatly interwoven in this mystery of danger and death.
While investigating these poisonings Flavia Albia will encounter several dangerous occasions on the plebeian Aventine Hill, which is a mix of monumental temples, and dangerous deadly back streets.
What is to follow is an intriguing and exciting mystery, that will develop more and more when you get into it, with plenty of action and deaths, and after Flavia Albia manages to get hold of things, she will finally be able to solve these terrible crimes in her own remarkable fashion.
Very much recommended, although this is the 1st episode of a new series, it has enormous potential in my view, and that's why I like to call this mystery: "A Fascinating New (Flavia Albia) Mysteries Begin"!
A new Marcus Didius Falco novel by Lindsey Davis! Quick, grab it off the library shelf! But what’s this? The subtitle: A Flavia Albia Mystery. What?!
Such were my emotions on discovering this novel. A faithful fan of the wisecracking Falco, detective of ancient Rome, through twenty other novels (although I’ve evidently missed the last, Nemesis), I was expecting more of the same. Instead, I find that Flavia Albia, Falco and Helena’s adopted daughter (a plot twist that I remember from an earlier book), has been married and widowed and has decided to strike out on her own in Falco’s old digs in the Surbura (which he has since purchased, now that he is a wealthy man.)
Perhaps Davis decided that Falco has grown too mature and respectable to perform any longer as a credible informer, since part of his charm was always his low upbringing and never-quite-comfortable rise to the top as the husband of the patrician Helena. So Davis has retired Falco and resorted to the younger blood of his (adopted) offspring. Although Flavia’s decision to live in her father’s old apartment building is barely credible (but necessary to plot, I think, as Davis doesn’t want her living in luxury with her dad), I was willing to read on.
The ensuing novel finds Flavia in pursuit of a clue linking a series of sudden deaths among the otherwise healthy in a certain section of Rome. Rumors whisper of a serial killer, or perhaps a copycat. The attractive archivist Andronicus offers aid of the most beguiling sort, while Tiberius, a runner for the magistrates, seems to turn up at inopportune moments, finally offering to team up with Flavia to find the truth.
So, not to give away more of the plot, events proceed as in other Davis novels, with lots of the colorful period details that readers of her novels expect and love. Since this story is told from a woman’s perspective, we have a slightly different view of the ancient world than in the previous books - Flavia at the baths, Flavia choosing jewelry and a sewing kit, Flavia sizing up available men.
It’s impossible not to compare Flavia’s adventures with those of her venerable father, who is banished so thoroughly from this volume that he does not utter a word directly (Helena does), and we hear of him only through Flavia’s mentions of visits to the family. Clearly Davis has decided that Falco needs to be put in the background to let Flavia shine.
And Flavia acquits herself well; she is a scrappy and engaging character (her orphan background makes her actions a bit more understandable) and I would certainly read another novel about her. Still, I miss her father, the scamp. I hope that once Davis becomes more comfortable with her new heroine, Falco is permitted to turn up from time to time and crack some jokes in person.
I've been on an ancient history kick recently and a mystery series featuring Flavia Albia sounded up my alley. The beginning was promising but I found myself kind of bored around midway through. The characters were interesting but didn't have much growth and the plot felt slow and plodding. I also guessed who was the killer almost from the beginning and I'm usually not good at guessing. I technically finished it but only by skimming most of the second half.
Marcus Didius Falco, the hero of 20 previous novels, has retired as a private informer to take over his late father's antique business. Fear not however, his adopted daughter Flavia has taken over his former profession of private informer, and even lives in the ramshackle apartment building he once occupied.
The current Emperor is the direct opposite of his father Vespasian, and most people keep their heads down so as not to incur his unreasonable wrath. Murder still abounds, and Albia gets involved in a series of mysterious deaths that appear to be murder, but that don't seem to have a recognizable cause. She pokes around and becomes fairly friendly with a freedman who gives her some tips, but whether or not these tips have any validity remains to be seen.
She works with a runner for an elected official who is in charge of an important upcoming religious festival, and who has his own reasons for keeping the news of a series of possible murders from the population, therefore creating a panic and causing havoc to his festival.
There's still the old Falco wit all over the pages, and if you don't think about the change of gender, you would imagine the senior Falco is involved. There's quite a bit of action and the uncovering of the murderer, whose identity I figured out quite early in the book, even though I don't normally do that, but rather wait for the author to tell me, is satisfying.
This is a fantastic ancient historical mystery that I'm teetering on the edge of calling a cozy because I got so into the world of ancient Rome the way Lindsey Davis paints it that I more than occasionally forgot people were dead.
Flavia Albia is actually the daughter of another Lindsey Davis character who is following in her father's footsteps as an "informer" or private detective. Obviously this is a difficult job for a woman, not to mention a single woman still nursing a broken heart for a long dead husband. But Flavia has enough ancient Roman sass for a whole army of centurians so badies best watch their backs!
I loved this so much I immediately snapped up the next four and read them over a two week quarantine. The key to these for me is that Flavia is very much a woman of her world. Realities like systemic poverty, disease, and slavery are just things that exist. So you get this amazing window in real ancient Roman life the way it might have really looked without the anachronistic malarky that makes me insane in historical fiction.
I highly recommend this series to any fan of historical fiction and locked room type mysteries.
Flavia Albia is female Informer (private investigator) in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian. This means that she often has to take on cases that her male counterparts turn down. When the death of her latest unsavory client leads Albia to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose, she soon finds herself in the middle of the intrigue.
I ended up liking this book in spite of the fact that there were several reasons why I shouldn't. First of all, it's not written using the speech patterns of the time period and that sort of thing usually pulls me out of the story. The writing style seems to set up the story with a definite comedic bent though so the lack of authentic language ended up not being an issue for me after all. Secondly, the mystery itself was a bit weak. I picked out the murderer early on (and that almost never happens) and also immediately figured out another reveal long before Flavia Albia. Now, however, I wonder if the author intended for these things to be obvious to the reader, if perhaps the point of the story was to watch Albia stumble her way through the process to show that she is a normal person of regular intellect who is not immune to errors of judgement. I also had some trouble getting into the story at first. Not being familiar with this time period meant that I spent a lot of time googling various things.
What ultimately saved the book for me is Albia herself. Her acerbic wit may come as off-putting to some but I quite liked her, and her sardonic observations of and commentary about life and people often had me chuckling. She is the adopted, now grown daughter of the main character of the author's other, long running series. I haven't read that series but I didn't find that an impediment to settling into this one. I look forward to reading more books featuring Flavia Albia.
Full disclosure: I won this in a GoodReads giveaway.
I have to admit that although I’d heard of author Lindsey Davis before, I had never got round to picking up any of her renowned Marcus Didius Falco mystery novels. The Ides of April is the first novel in Falco: The Next Generation, following the adventures of Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia as she too becomes an investigator of mysteries. Therefore I jumped into this series not knowing what to expect. Generally I tend to prefer straight historical fiction to historical mystery, since as a passionate historian I love to read about the real stories and people of history, and the historical mystery sub-genre tends to utilise fictional characters, invented plots, and the history is merely background window dressing.
The style of writing struck me immediately, and hard. Albia is our first person narrator, and her acerbic, sardonic, down-to-earth commentary permeates through the whole book. It definitely threw me as her “voice” is extremely modern in tone, and I didn’t like the fact that it shook me out of the historical setting and grounded me right in the present day. That wasn’t exactly what I look for when I open a book set in ancient times. Occasionally the text had some really odd phrases in it that I found rather jarring. For example, after a late night out Albia is described as “rolling up” to her residence. I instantly had a mental picture of a car slowly rolling up to and then stopping outside a building. Well, maybe Albia’s riding in a cart or chariot? Nope. We’re specifically told that Albia being transported by carried chair. So how did she “roll up” then? Not only is the phrase strongly evocative of cars, and thus jarring in an ancient Roman setting, but it’s incorrect too as a descriptor of what Albia was actually doing. At another point Albia says “oh bloody hell”. I’m pretty sure that a pagan Roman, in 89 CE when the Christians were still a very small and largely unknown sect, wouldn’t have even heard of “hell” much less be using it as an off the cuff swear term. Once again, it just instantly ripped me out of the setting. A reference is even made to “perps”. It just felt so totally out of place. Suddenly I was watching CSI characters trying to be slick and down with the lingo, not reading a mystery set in ancient Rome.
Maybe this is a minor point. Whilst the language used feels modern, Davis seems to get all the historical facts right as far as I know, and the other aspects of the book seem tightly written. Once I got used to it, I could see the advantages this style brings. The modern voice in a historical novel serves to highlight the similarities between people in the past and present, instead of making historical characters feel distant and unidentifiable in their outlook and values. A far wider readership is likely to read the books if they’re written in a modern voice; people who don’t normally read historical fiction or find history confusing or uninteresting maybe be more tempted to pick up a mystery novel written in a modern way they’re familiar with that just happens to be set in ancient Rome. In a way I liked the tongue-in-cheek flippancy of the style, it’s irreverent and captures the immediacy of the situation and certainly captures the attention of the reader, but in the end I think I have to say I’d prefer a less overtly sore-thumb modern style of narrative.
Narrative voice aside however, I found much to like here. Albia’s an intelligent, practical woman who sets out to carve her own career, with some life experience behind her but plenty yet ahead too. This is a character I can easily like and identify with, all big plus points. On the down side, Albia’s sardonic internal thoughts reveal rather negative, cynical judgments of almost everyone she meets, and that wasn’t so likeable – but I can let it go in view of the fact that I’m guessing this is an aspect of her character that will grow over time, and it provides a pretty big flaw to her otherwise admirable figure. I appreciated Davis’ subtle attention to detail too. The world in which Albia moves; the buildings, the objects, are all brought to life and bring to life ancient Rome itself, but Davis spends such little time on them, slipping them in to the main plot, that it didn’t feel like great big information dumps. The times when there are info dumps, such as when Albia explains the association of foxes with the ides of April celebrations, are disguised by the first person narrative – Albia seems to be musing to herself, or chatting to the reader as a friend recounting an anecdote – this cleverly hides the exposition and it doesn’t feel as laboured as in some novels. In terms of pacing the story was a little slow to get going, I felt, but after that stabilised into a good pace.
As far as the plot went, well, WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Where does that leave the final word? Well, in the book’s disadvantage, I feel, is its jarringly modern voice, fairly obvious whodunit plus switcheroo, and certain key plot points that rely on character stupidity in order to draw out the plot otherwise everything would be resolved too quickly and easily. Any plot that relies on character stupidity too much is on shaky ground. That said, in the book’s favour, the mystery, whilst obvious, also made for a fairly solid plot, overall I did like the protagonist as a character I could root for and identify with, the setting is crafted with clever little observations which as far as I know were accurate, and the one twist I didn’t see coming until quite late was one I liked and thought was a nice trick. I’m not sure where this puts me with the Didius Falco series; from glancing through other reviews, fans of the original Falco series have both praised this spin-off and said that it’s not as good as Falco, so I’m left wondering if the few points I didn’t like in The Ides of April are absent from Falco. Overall, I would definitely say this was a good read, but the series hasn't really hooked me. I'm going to give it another go with the next book, otherwise, I have a huge to-be-read pile already.
Flavia Albia, a young widow, has been an informer (private investigator) for several years, following in her adopted father’s footsteps. Rome in the first century AD is brought vividly to life in this fast paced and amusing story which does have its darker side. Those who have read this author’s Falco series will immediately recognise Flavia Albia. She is independent, intelligent and observant – ideal qualities for an informer to have. But it seems some people in high places don’t want her to find out why people of all ages are dropping dead for no apparent reason and she is warned off. Naturally she doesn’t listen to the warning.
Full of interesting and intriguing characters including Albia herself, this is an entertaining mystery which will keep you turning the pages to find out who you can trust and who you can’t. It must be difficult for authors of long running and successful series to introduce a new series but Lindsey Davis has managed it successfully. I always liked Albia when she appeared in the Falco series and she makes an excellent central character for this new series.
The book is well written and impeccably researched and reading it makes you feel as though you could just step into Rome and recognise it instantly by sight, smell and hearing. I also feel as though I would recognise the characters if I met them face to face.
Maybe even lower. Very weak, and disappointing given my memory of enjoying the Falco books, though I haven't read them all, and haven't read any in a long time. It didn't help that our bold heroine kept going on about how she'd been taught by the best, before behaving extremely stupidly. Basically, if a guy was good-looking and seems to like her she'll believe every word he says. Without checking, or even wondering for a split second if it might be a good idea to get any other perspective. Infuriating.
I enjoyed seeing Rome through a female investigator's eyes. Some of the tale did seem drawn out, with many characters, so prepare for a longer, woven style of read. We revisit Marcus Didius Falco's haunts like Fountain Court, but life is even more precarious now than in previous books.
Enjoy. I'll be looking out for more in this series.
Depois de uma infância complicada, Flávia Albia é adotada já na adolescência e levada para Roma pela nova família. Viúva desde os 20 anos de idade, Flávia dedica o seu tempo à profissão de detetive, cujos conhecimentos adquiriu através do próprio pai; mas, sendo mulher, Flávia tem que se aplicar em dobro para conquistar o mesmo nível de respeito e credibilidade… Em 'A Informadora', o primeiro livro com Flávia como protagonista, acumulam-se sucessivas mortes devido a causas naturais… mas a sua frequência e falta de explicação irão levar Flávia a desconfiar desta espontaneidade.
O meu maior atrito com este livro é incoerência entre a época em que decorre a ação e a sensação de contemporaneidade que nos fica. Apesar de decorrer em 89 DC e das interessantes descrições das tradições e do estilo de vida dos romanos dessa época, a narrativa tem um sabor demasiado moderno, tanto a nível da mentalidade como da linguagem utilizada e, sendo a própria Flávia a responsável pela narração, não acho que devesse existir este tom vanguardista. Aliás, se Flávia habitava aquele espaço, naquela época, não me faz sentido que as suas descrições e interpretações pessoais se assemelhem mais a explicações e esclarecimentos ao leitor. Talvez optar por um narrador na primeira pessoa tenha sido um erro…
Esclarecido o meu problema com o narrador, vamos ao eu problema com a protagonista: não desenvolvi qualquer empatia com Flávia, o que é extremamente revelador dado que ela defendia os direitos dos animais, a emancipação das mulheres e se opunha a rituais macabros. Creio que não fui apresentada a suficientes facetas de Flávia para simpatizar minimamente com ela…
E, por último, o 'mistério'… Não é difícil chegar à identidade do assassino por muito que Lindsey Davis nos tente distrair com o romance de Flávia, a sua família ou as festividades que a rodeiam…e uma vez desvendada a charada, não resta muito mais para prender a nossa atenção. Como tal, apesar de não ser um livro péssimo, aborreci-me bastante durante a sua leitura…
I fell in love with Falco since book one of his adventures, and though I'm not yet finished with his series, I've decided to pick up this book. Flavia Albia is Falco and Helena's adoptive daughter. She's smart, resourceful and funny. Her sarcastic voice reminded me a lot of her father's, and no surprise that she would end up as a private investigator in ancient Rome, cultivating family traditions.
For me this story felt a bit more brutal. The Rome of Caesars was definitely harsher for women, especially ones trying to be independent, and working in a male dominated profession. Though Flavia was very capable, and knew how to deal with men. I think Lindsey Davis has a knack for writing about Roman times, she's not leaving behind any important details about politics, culture and society.
“Sometimes you run away by yourself purely so someone who cares will come to find you. Half the time nobody does. That's the tragedy of life.”
The case was pretty engaging. I was very curious about all the murders. The pacing of this story was a bit uneven for me. Some parts were fast and going fluently, and some were dragging a bit. Overall it was a solid crime/mystery book, with a historical background, in my opinion. And I will be continuing with this series. Also it was so good to check up with all the amazing characters of Lindsey Davis that I adore so much from her previous series.
As much as I loved the Falco series by Lindsey Davis, I had high expectations for "The Ides of April", which is essentially "Falco, Second Generation." The reboot features Flavia Albia, Falco's adopted daughter. She's smart. She's tough. She's resourceful. She's Rome's version of V.I. Warshawski.
The problem with Davis's reboot is that it is surgical and completely cuts out the familiar and lovable Falco and his wife, Helena. There would have been nothing wrong with her easing Falco out and Albia in *or* with her showing Albia learning from Falco, but to start the series with her as an established informer and her parents as afterthoughts does the lineage a grave disservice.
Elements of the book are fantastic. As always, Davis takes the reader back to Rome at a time when the Empire was still the most powerful force int he world and brings an ancient city to life masterfully. However, the story is rushed in some places and too slow in other, plus it is chock full of characters, who are hard to follow.
The final nail in the coffin for the book for me was that I figured out who the killer was halfway through. Two stars for not being a Dan Brown novel.
Kind of sad. Falco and Helena have taken a back seat to their adopted daughter, Flavia Alba, who they rescued from brutal conditions in Britannia and brought back and raised in Rome. She's all grown up now and working on her own as an informer. The focus has clearly shifted to her: Falco and Helena have become shadowy figures, relegated to their roles as Flavia's parents. Flavia, who lives alone in Falco's old apartment building in Fountain Court, visits them a few times in the book, but author Lindsey Davis keeps these scenes to a minimum, describing them in a few brief sentences. Not surprisingly, the adult Flavia bears the psychological scars of her traumatic early childhood: she's a loner, mistrustful, and edgy - not just a hard-boiled detective but a hard-bitten one. I found that, and the serial killer plot, all rather depressing. Moreover, Davis has leap-frogged the reign of Titus - jumped from Vespasian to his sinister second son Domitian. Too dark for me. I miss the charm of Falco and Helena, their wit and vivacity, and the comic scenes of the early books that tied characters together and had often a surprising and moving underlying poignancy to them.
This is the first book I've read from this author based on its reviews and I was very disappointed. I found her writing style inelegant and the plot really weak. I don't understand why it has so many good reviews. I had to force myself to finish it in case it got better. It didn't.
"The Ides of April" - written by Lindsey Davis and published in 2013 by St Martin's Press. In a historical mystery, the setting is just as or even more important than the mystery itself. Flavia is a young widowed informer with an interesting background that was likely well-detailed in Davis' earlier Falco series. Here she gets involved in a serial killer investigation, making her way in a male-dominated world. Davis does a good job of describing ancient Roman city life, but makes the unfortunate decision to overlay it with updated language. The use of terms such as "oodles of respect," "very hot under the tunic" and chicken names of "Piddle, Diddle and Willykins" came off as flippant and took me out of the story. The mystery plot meandered around and wasn't very compelling. Not the book I expected, but I would try one of the Falco series.
This is the first in a series featuring Flavia Albia, Roman informer and daughter of the famous Falco, Davis’s much loved series character. The inconvenient death of Albia’s client (before she has paid her fee) means she stumbles on a possible murder case. Soon she is hunting for a serial killer.
I liked this book despite a major flaw. You have to believe that Albia fails to see something which is blindingly obvious to the reader from early on – and indeed is heavily and repeatedly telegraphed by the author. Sometimes this can be fun in a book, it’s the ‘he’s behind you’ thrill you get at the pantomime. You know more than the character and as well as creating suspense it makes you feel a little bit clever.
Here, though, it doesn’t work because Albia is meant to be an informer. She is supposed to be able to work things out that other people miss. The author does try to cover herself when Albia insists after the big reveal that she was just playing along but it’s hardly convincing.
Despite that, I enjoyed this book a lot. Albia, as a woman faces constraints not experienced by Falco but can also explore a different side of Roman life. And making Albia an outsider is clever because she observes Rome with a fresh eye. Albia has a difficult background and the book has a darker undertone than the Falco novels. The series is clearly being marketed as such, with sombre covers quite unlike the colourful friezes on the Falco novels. Still there is some humour in this story and I love Albia’s pithy observations.
Albia’s family are there but firmly in the background, as if the author wants her to stand on her own and not be in the shadow of her popular parents. Although her kid brother Postumus threatens to steal the show!
All in all I think it’s a good set up and I look forward to reading more.
Then, and only then, read this book and you will appreciate what Lindsey Davis has done.
It's Falco's Rome, only Falco is just off stage. In fact,Davis skillfully allows us to see Rome through a whole new perspective, while still carefully adding enough details to let you know how many of the characters you have come to love throughout the series are faring.
This could have totally flopped, but Davis is too good for that. While I HATED Master and Godand didn't care a hoot about the characters, here she has managed to give herself a new canvas to work upon while still giving me and thousands of other fans the sort of book we have come to love.
I am hoping that having firmly established her new scene, Davis will feel free to allow some of the old characters to come back on the stage occasionally. But regardless of that, I am looking forward to the next book in this series. Well done!
I tremendously enjoy the author's facility with words. The colorful way she captures the flavor of ancient Rome had me eating olives and crusty loaves of bread along with the main character as she solved the problem of mysterious deaths that no one was reporting. (Literally, by the way, I had to get up and attack a plate of Kalamata olives and French bread just to satisfy my visceral needs as well as intellectual ones.)
I haven't made an effort to cross check for accuracy, but Lindsey Davis writes as if she is crossing the Travertina daily to get to the local watering hole for burned offerings for lunch. I absolutely love the new character she has developed and was, of course, downhearted that it is only the first book of a series. (It had better be a series, or I will have to have words with the writer about leaving the reader wanting more and then not delivering.)
My only gripe is the long held belief that the Ides of a month fell on the 15th. In her novel, the Ides of April is the 13th. According to Wikipedia, we are both right!:
Idus, Ides—thought to have originally been the day of the full moon, was the 13th day of the months with 29 days, but the 15th day of March, May, July, and October (the months with 31 days).
So, isn't it nice to receive a little history lesson with your fictional mystery!?
For a historical mystery to work, you must believe that what happens is credible given the time in which it is set. This fails that test. There are so many glaring anachronisms: algebra calculus (not for centuries); mad cat ladies (not a thing in ancient Rome); serial killers (the term is only decades old.) But, more crucially, you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to accept that a young woman could act the way that Alba does in this book. It was just not possible and so the whole sorry mess becomes risible. The first few Falco novels were entertaining because the the author was scrupulous about the history. Alas, in this novel, sloppiness abounds. The prose is also very stodgy with endless travelogue moments that scream 'Hey, we're in Ancient Rome guys!' The identity of the killer is telegraphed early on: I know 'They always come back.' is an oft used serial-killer trope but here it's taken to ludicrous lengths. There are so many better historical series around: do yourself a favour and find them.
I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. Based on the description of the book, I was hoping for a spirited, assertive independent, intelligent, female protagonist. Unfortunately, I was instead disappointed by this character.
Yes, Flavia was intelligent but she was also abrasive, aggressive, cynical, and sarcastic. I found her fairly unlikeable. In fact, except for the care that she had for the foxes, I might have thought her not much different than the psychopath she chased, unfeeling, self-centred, using others to reach her own goals.
It was difficult to get past my dislike of Flavia to in any way enjoy the story, but as far as it goes the plot line was OK and the writing not bad, though the number of 20th and 21st Century phrases used was disconcerting in a supposedly historical novel.
Overall, I managed to make my way through this book (skimming chunks in the middle) but I would not go out looking for others in the series, or even by this author.
I remember being enthralled by the first Falco book. This one, not so much. I didn't like the time gap between Albia's decision to become an informer in the Falco book and this book- was it 12 years? I also feel that the whole paranoid mood of this Rome under Domitian puts a damper on my enjoyment. Falco's Rome was a lot more fun as was F himself with his snarky observations on humanity. Having said all that, I was finally draw in and will look forward to the next Albia adventure.