Lindsey Davis is, of course, well known to legions of fans for her Falco detective series. Now, she has cleverly created a spin off series, with Flavia Albia, Falco's adopted daughter, as the the main character. This is very much a new series, so it does not matter whether you have read any (or all) of the Falco novels - previous characters, such as family members, are mentioned, but always with explanations as to who is who, and Flavia Albia is very much the main character in her own setting. However, if you are a fan of the Falco novels, even the location will be familiar, as Favia Albia lives in Fountain Court, where her father first lived in the first book The Silver Pigs: (Falco 1). Like her father, Flavia Albia is also an private informer, with an independent streak and a wish to succeed at her chosen profession.
Being a woman both limits Flavia Albia in her investigations and yet gives her better access to information when interviewing female clients. The author paints a vibrant picture of Rome, with all the problems and limitations women faced in everyday life. When a client of Flavia Albia's dies suddenly, her main concern is that she will no longer be paid. However, the woman's stepson is unwilling to accept the death as natural and asks her to investigate. To her surprise, Flavia Albia discovers that other, previously healthy and active people, have died suddenly and it seems a murderer is stalking the streets of Rome. Originally, Flavia Albia is warned off the case, but when it becomes apparent that a female investigator could help, she joins forces with Morellus, a vigiles investigator, and Tiberius, who works for the aedile Manlius Faustus, to track down the killer.
In this novel, Lindsey Davis weaves a historical mystery with a great plot, believable characters and a good dose of humour, to create a great new series. Flavia Albia is extremely likeable, both human and fallible, yet brave and resourceful. If you like the Falco novels then you will find much to enjoy in this new series and I hope that Flavia Albia goes on to investigate many more mysteries as I look forward to reading further adventures featuring this likeable new heroine.
on 18 April 2013
Oh dear, I really, really wanted to like this novel. I own and have enjoyed all of Ms Davies's novels (well a few of the very late Falcos were a little hard work). The new main character is exactly my age. I have been really looking forward to reading this book. I have had it on pre order for months but .....
For me this book lacked things I was looking for from a hot stuff Lindsay Davies novel. I came to the table expecting a tight clever plot, humour and above all joy de vivre and I found a very tired plot (that I almost couldn't be bothered waiting for the conclusion of), an understandably (given her life experiences) bitter and tiresome leading character who had none of the charm and wit I was looking for in the daughter of Falco. There was just no bounce.
I didn't hate this book. It is well written and life in ancient Rome is beautifully brought to life in the background. I just found the story and the heroine uninteresting. I am afraid my eyes kept glassing over as I read. I kept wishing Falco would come out of the background and draw my attention.
I am so sorry Ms Davies because I really love the Silver Pigs and I was hoping that this was going to be Silver Pigs mark two. I shall keep reading Ms Davies as I am sure there will be a return to form!
on 9 March 2013
I've loved all the Falco books, and was dismayed to realise that the rather downbeat Nemesis was likely to be his last investigation. Now, some years later in the unhappy reign of the Emperor Domitian, his adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, has stepped into his old office in Fountain Court, and is doing quite nicely as an informer and investigator in her own right.
Albia is still in many ways the wilful child of the Falco books, but at 29 and ten years a widow, she has her head screwed on and knows what she wants and how to get it. Drawn, reluctantly on the part of her male counterparts, into the investigation of a series of sudden deaths by poison, she proves her worth and stands firmly on her own feet.
It is the detail of Roman life, the wonderfully drawn characters (even the minor ones) who come right off the page, and the sometimes wicked humour, that make this book, and the Falco books, such a delight to read. We may not meet Falco directly here, but his presence is still very much felt I love the way the story is told in modern English and I do not find this detracts from the historical feel.
There is romance here, if rather hasty and possibly ill-judged, Albia is very human; pathos, in the horrible fate of the foxes sacrificed to Ceres which upsets her enough to take matters into her own hands; love of family - even for her obnoxious younger adopted brother Postumus (of whom I'm sure we will hear more); loyalty and determination.
Tiberius, the runner for the aedile, Andronicus the charmer, Ronan the door keeper, Junillus her deaf cousin, Robigo the fox - too many vibrant characters to name but they all fit perfectly into the story.
It is true that Albia's Rome is not Falco's Rome; this is a feminine take on life in the city and adds a new dimension to our understanding of what life might have been like.
I did guess the murderer early on, and also the other puzzle in the book, but loved every minute of Albia's investigation. Hope this will be the start of another great series.
This is the first book in the new (sub)series by Lindsey Davis, which features Flavia Albia, daughter of Falco (the protagonist of the main Falco series by Davis). I picked up the second book in this Flavia Albia series, Enemies at Home, and read it before I went back and read this one. Oddly enough, I think if I had read this first book in the series previous to reading the second one, I may well not have gone on to read any more, because I did not enjoy this first book quite as much as I enjoyed the second.
In the first half of the book, Flavia Albia comes across as someone with a chip on her shoulder as big as the Colosseum, and it became rather irritating after a while, when she kept dismissing everyone she came across as either beneath her notice or a lying hypocrite. Happily, the second half of the book came across much better; the plot of the story picked up, and the characters as a whole in the story became much more interesting.
Flavia Albia is an informer in Rome in the reign of Domitian, a rather unpredictable emperor on whose wrong side it was not wise to get; and the life of an informer could be rather dangerous, let alone for a woman. Luckily Flavia Albia had a good upbringing with her loyal and loving family after a rocky start in life, and she is no ordinary shrinking Roman matron. When she is asked to investigate the sudden death of one of her clients, she at first dismisses the notion that the death was anything but natural. But delving further into the underworld of Rome, she finds a number of apparently unlinked but sudden deaths. Could they have any relation to the death of her client, and what could their links be?
This story certainly picked up in the second half, and got better as it went along. On the strength of my enjoyment of the second book in the series, I will most definitely look out for the third book. Hopefully Flavia Albia continues to find more mysteries in the world of Rome in the first century AD.
I love Davis's writing about Rome and have followed Falco since the start. I really wondered how Davis was going to steer Falco through the reign of Domitian given the history between them. Lo and behold; Falco - `The Next Generation' is the inspired result.
Set around a dozen years on from the story covered by Nemesis, `Ides of April' initially took a while to get going as Davis filled in some of the gaps created by the leap forward in time. The Falco series, rather like Michael Clynes' series about the incorrigible Elizabethan rogue Roger Shallot, was told as the reminiscences of someone in old age of their younger exploits. By a third of the way through the novel you can breathe a sigh of relief as you find that all the major characters from the Falco series are alive and well, if keeping their heads down to avoid being chopped by the unstable Domitian.
This is Davis at her best. The story flows well, the narrative description of Rome and its people are vivid and three dimensional and it is a wonderfully plotted book full of humour and irony. Davis has also done well to avoid miring Falco senior into the series too early. This young lady is an able detective in her own right, albeit with illustrious adoptive forebears and I'm sure that she'll build up an impressive casebook of her own to rival that of `Pa' and leave him for the time being managing grandpa Geminus's dodgy antiques business.
I did have this on pre-order from when it was first placed in the catalogue, for me Davis can do little wrong in this genre; generally I know I'm going to be royally entertained, have a few laughs and a good mystery to boot. I'm really pleased I got the opportunity to read it before it officially hit the stands.
on 22 April 2013
I've looked at all the 5 star reviews of this with some incredulity, particularly from those who say they've read all Ms Davis' Falco novels; then had to go back and check I've not missed something because I am so polarized from those reviews I began to doubt I had read the same book. This may be "Next Generation", but it's nowhere near the quality of Marcus Didius Falco, to the degree I seriously began to wonder if Ms Davis was the sole author of the book, especially over the first 8 or so chapters. Tone, style, characterization, descriptive narrative... all fall well well short of the standard I have lazily taken for granted in any Falco novel from this wonderful author (and I've read every novel she's published). The humour is missing as well, replaced by an acerbic narration from Falco's daughter that is, at time, so male-prejudiced it's incredible. I found myself skipping beyond passages that endlessly seemed to portray men as either sexual predators, or incompetent, unintelligent boors, or career-ladder-climbing halfwits, or rich old lechers. Even Albia's "love flirtation", Andronicus, comes across as a man so unctuous he could squeeze through a drain pipe with ease.
I read the novel with a growing incredulity. I can't quite believe Ms Davis (who produced some of the finest Roman novels out there) has written some of this. Throw in the rabid anti-fox hunting sideline with the Ceres festival and the actual murder mystery fades into the background. Which is a shame, because it's actually pretty good and should be the core of the novel.
Here's some examples of the descriptions of the men in the book:
"screwed as many altar boys as he was hoping for" ; " a bunch of effete contractors were mincing around" ; "a male menace barged out into the street" ; "the shifty blaggard was all hemp tunics and chin stubble. Absolutely not my type." ; "my client's husbands...run away with a bar girl. A piece with an ankle-chain" ; "The surly man they called Tiberius" ; "men with randy propositions are bad enough" ; "being driven mad by a barely literate bonehead trying to spell "self-defence" ; "The man was straight, but indisputably a halfwit." ; "a typically rancid slum landlord" ; " Art...can be used to thump the heads of any crass men who molest you." ; "he was a big bellied pompous type" ; "this gave the men [the vigiles] a hangdog, shabby air, they could often be seen lolling against a siphon engine...eating snacks and chatting up loose women".
I could go on with dozens more examples...this book certainly does...but you can read it for yourselves. It left me agape. Not at all what I expect of the author.
It's not all male-focused, this meiosis. Some female characters get it as well. The first corpse is described as: "Salvidia had had a heavy build, the kind of weight that arrives with the menopause", or "furious grannies hurling curses"; we get told the bath-house owner probably killed her husband because he was useless, that two female "lesbian gladiators" regularly preen themselves in the yard.
Enough. You can sense my disappointment.
That aside, the plot of the serial murders is well done and exactly what I expect of Lindsey Davis. I quite like the dour Tiberius, dislike Andronicus, got a real sense of the Aventine, bemoaned the lack of Marcus and Helena Justina in the book - yet got over it. The denouement was satisfying, the action plausible. Albia's character? Dislikeable. Which is a major problem given she's the main character. When Albia's not furiously denigrating people, she constantly musing over her own love-life, and whether to get together with Andronicus. All of which is a not very subtle author's attempt to point us away from what Andronicus really is. The effort to direct the reader to think one way about him is so over-laboured that you immediately suspect the opposite.
I also dislike all the references to Albia's deceased husband, Lentulus, as "Farm-Boy". Leave that description to "The Princess Bride". It's an iconic description no one else should be allowed to use.
So, my 2 star is a rating relative to Ms Davis' other books. It's probably a 3.5 star in the genre, but (and I hate to say this), Marcus Didius Falco would immensely disappointed in his step-daughter's attitude and first outing into the underworld of Rome. I'll read the next, and hope for some major changes.
on 23 April 2013
As has been established numerous times, I love historical crime fiction. Generally, I've been most at home reading historical (crime) fiction set in medieval, Renaissance and Victorian times, as those are also the periods in history I'm most familiar with. And while I've been branching out lately, it's been generally into periods in between these former periods, only rarely have I strayed into the Classical age. In fact, looking at my Goodreads shelf, I can count them on one hand. The Ides of April has now made it possible to engage my other hand in tallying up the numbers. Why the emphasis on this lack of Classical historical fiction reading? Mostly because I think that it accounts for most of my problems with this first instalment in Davis' new series. Because while I really enjoyed the setting and Albia's voice, at times I struggled with how modern she sounded.
Let me elaborate on that last point. Albia is an independent, young woman. Already a widow at twenty-nine, she's set up in business for herself. And what other business could she chose than that of her famous, adoptive father Marcus Didius Falco? Thus Albia is an informer, or as we would call her a private investigator. Now, I was aware that women had a much larger and freer role in Roman society than their sisters in Greece or their descendants in the Middle Ages; however, I was surprised by how independent and free Albia actually was. This is one tough cookie and she quite liberated in her views. Add to that the fact that Albia often emphasises the fact that women are never safe and always vulnerable, in a way that feels very reminiscent of the discussions of rape culture being had in the present day, and Albia feels so modern that it just feels a little off. Now there are several reasons why this might be so. The first - and honestly, most likely - reason is my ignorance of Roman society beyond that which I was taught in history and Latin class at grammar school. But while that is a likely reason, it also feels as if the author is trying to draw a comparison to modern day society and through Albia is commenting on it or perhaps just even saying the more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course there is nothing wrong with inserting social commentary into a novel, in fact I think most good art does, however in this case it impinged upon the narrative, so much so that it felt intrusive and that isn't a good thing; it ended up pulling me out of the narrative and make me wonder about its meaning.
Modern or not, Albia's voice is distinctive, with a sardonic outlook on life that's lends an almost noir vibe to the story. Despite her cynical nature and hardened by a childhood on the streets of Londinium, she's a sensitive woman, who seemingly loves with all her heart. She's also a family woman, who enjoys spending time with her parents and most of her siblings and is close to her extended adoptive family. Time spent with her family is mostly kept off the page though and the majority of the novel is spent following Albia on the job through her corner of Rome, the Aventine. I loved the setting of the Aventine, which Davis brings to colourful life, filled with sounds, smells and even taste, in the form of the less than stellar food served at her aunt's local restaurant. It's through one of her cases that Albia gets enmeshed in the main mystery of the novel: who is behind the strange deaths occurring across the city?
In the course of her investigation we meet many people. Some are part of Albia's daily life, such as her concierge Rodan, Prisca, who runs the bathhouse she frequents, and Morellus, the local vigiles investigator - the Roman equivalent of a police detective - with whom Albia has a rather ambivalent friendly working relationship, and of course her cousin Junillus at the restaurant. Some come into her life as a result of the case, such as Andronicus, an archivist who quickly becomes more than just that, and Tiberius, the undercover agent employed by the elusive aedile, Manlius Faustus, to keep be his eyes on the street and in this case to solve the murders. All of these play important roles in the story and are entertaining and well-drawn. The plot of the story is interesting and almost a classic whodunit, in the sense that the identity of the killer is easily deduced, at least I had an idea quite early on who it might be that proved to be correct, but the how and the why prove more elusive. The same can be said of the secondary mystery in the novel, where is Manlius Faustus and why won't he see Albia? I had this figured out rather early on as well, but again the solution and the reasons for it are only revealed late in the book. This reminded me of the earliest crime mysteries I read, those of Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters.
The Ides of April certainly made me think and research the position of women in Rome a bit. Said research mostly consisted of reading Wikipedia and several blogs, seeing what we had on the topic at work, and concluding that I knew squat about the topic and I'd need fifty more hours in the day to read up on the subject. But any book that makes me want to learn more has done something right, in my opinion. Despite my problems with the book, I did enjoy it and thought the Aventine Hill was brought to life wonderfully. The Ides of April was a solid introduction to the character of Flavia Albia and I'm looking forward to seeing how she develops in the future.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Falco - the second generation: we have moved on some years from Nemesis, but I haven't had time to work out how many. Flavia Albia, the street child that Falco and Helena Justina adopted in Britain,has set up her own business as an informer and is living in Fountain Court, using Falco's old attic as her office. Now twenty-nine, she has been widowed for about ten years. She is smart, independent and her own woman.
A child has been knocked down and killed by an overloaded cart. Albia has been hired by the cart's owner to see what evidence there is that might cost her money. It is not a job Albia particularly likes, but she has to make a living. The Aedile (who has responsibility for maintaining public order) has posted a notice about the incident requesting witnesses. Albia goes to his office to see if anybody has responded. There she meets the Aedile's archivist, Andronicus, attractive, funny and charming. There is an instant rapport.
Albia's client dies suddenly and unexpectedly. It comes to Albia's notice that a few other people have died in the same way. She and Andronicus start to investigate the possibility that a serial killer is haunting the Aventine. Albia's task is complicated by run-ins with another of the Aedile's employees, the runner, Tiberius who is also chasing the killer.
The plot is complicated and involved and seen from Albia's, the narrator's, point of view. We see what happens through her eyes and when she makes a mistake or is disappointed we feel it with her. The result is very satisfying.
I was worried when I started this book that this would be Falco Mark 2, or worse, the further adventures of Helena Justina. It isn't. Albia is a fully rounded individual and utterly believable.
What I found very interesting was the portrayal of Rome. It is subtly different from Falco's Rome. Albia is female. She did not arrive in Rome until she was fifteen. Her life before her adoption was harsh and brutal. After her adoption she was relatively well off and her security was assured. All this means her view of Rome is different from Falco's. That does not mean it is less real. You get a real feel for the vibrancy of the city, of what is allowed and not allowed, of how everyday life was for ordinary people. However, none of this background detail is allowed to dominate Albia or the plot.
I hope there will be more Albia Flavia books. A string was left loose at the end that needs to be taken up and not left dangling.
Does Falco have a presence in this novel? You will have to read it and see.
on 23 August 2016
I have been a Falco fan for many years, so any continuation of this world is welcome. The mystery itself was easy enough to work out, but the Aventine setting and well-developed characters makes up for that. Davis really is a master of her craft, you can practically smell the garum, she really does know her stuff. I miss Falco, but Albia is a fitting, intriguing and capable replacement.
On first opening this book I momentarily suffered a twinge of trepidation, almost bordering on anxiety. This book, `The Ides of April`is after all a new departure for Lindsey Davis though it is set in first century Rome and follows the adventures of an informer. So far this all seems familiar enough. What differentiates this story from previous Lindsey Davis `Falco` stories is that this one does not involve the hero Falco. This time it follows Flavia Albia, adopted daughter of Falco and Helena.
Plunging on I was quickly gripped by the story (incidentally, based on real life incidents as reported by Dio Cassius). There have been a number of unexplained and therefore unexamined deaths in Rome. Flavia accidentally becomes involved and her suspicions (and need for cash) encourage her to accept a commission to unravel the deaths. Though apparently natural coincidence seems to suggest the possibility that the deaths are not natural but rather, murder.
Like her familial predecessor Flavia faces obstruction from the authorities. Like Falco she has to be street-wise, tough, and the possessor of streaks of humanity and a sense of humour.
To be fair I was quickly convinced I knew who te killer was and I was proved right. However, this knowledge made no difference to my enjoyment of the story. Flavia is sufficently well drawn as to distance herself from Falco and there is clearly plenty of scope for further development. There is always a real pleasure in reading this author`s work . The Falco series deftly combined a historical backdrop to an engrossing story. There is always so much to intrigue: the historical scenery, the twists and turns of plot, the characters, the sense of actually being on the street with the protagonists, listening in, seeing what they see, smelling what they smell.
So I finished the book too quickly. Like The Falco books I was looking forward to the next as soon as I closed the book. In Flavia Davis has created a character ripe for further development. Can`t wait for the next instalment.