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Customer Review

"The Ides of April," set in Domitian's Rome, introduces Flavia Albia who had been a minor character in some of the author's previous books as a detective in her own right. It follows on from the twenty excellent detective stories which Lyndsey Davis had previously set in Vespasian's Roman Empire and which featured the informer Marcus Didius Falco as the main character.

Flavia Albia is Falco's adopted daughter. As this begins in 89 AD, a dozen years after the last Falco book "Nemesis: (Falco 20), Flavia is a widow in her late twenties having enjoyed a happy but tragically brief marriage a few years previously. Her family are wealthy enough that she could have enjoyed a life of leisure but being very much her own woman, Albia has set up independently as an "informer" e.g. private detective like her father before her.

The book begins with the tragic death of a little boy in a genuine accident: having been hired by one of the parties to the subsequent lawsuit Flavia finds that various clients and witnesses suddenly start mysteriously dying. Flavia becomes more and more convinced that these subsequent deaths are not accidents at all, but are part of a pattern of murder. While investigating, she meets two characters from the office of one of Rome's senior magistrates, an Aedile called Manlius Faustus: one is the surly and obnoxious Tiberius, the other is the handsome and suave Andronicus. But is either man quite what he appears ?

As the death toll mounts, Albia, Andronicus and Tiberius try to catch the killer, but it becomes more and more apparent that danger is very close to home ...

This story is based on a real historical incident: a historical note at the end of the book, quoting Dio Cassius's Roman History, gives the source for the actual event. If you're interested here's a link:Dio Cassius: Roman History, Volume VIII, Books 61-70 (Loeb Classical Library No. 176), but read "The Ides of April" first as knowledge of what actually happened will be a spoiler.

The novel contains Lindsey Davis's usual mix of ironic humour about human relationships, generous nuggets of information about the society and politics of first century Rome, and an intriguing detective story.

The original Falco series, in chronological order, consists of:

1) The Silver Pigs
2) Shadows in Bronze
3) Venus in Copper
4) The Iron Hand of Mars
5) Poseidon's Gold
6) Last Act in Palmyra
7) Time to Depart
8) A Dying Light in Corduba
9) Three Hands in the Fountain
10) Two for the Lions
11) One Virgin Too Many
12) Ode to a Banker
13) A Body in the Bath house
14) The Jupiter Myth
15) The Accusers
16) Scandal taks a Holiday
17) See Delphi and Die
18) Saturnalia
19) Alexandria
20) Nemesis

And as mentioned, this book "The Ides of April" picks up the story again a dozen years later.

Funny, exciting, and based on a painstaking effort to re-create the world of the early Roman empire between 70 and 89 AD.

It isn't absolutely essential to read these stories in sequence, as the mysteries Falco and Albia are trying to solve are all self-contained stories and each book can stand on its own. Having said that, there is some ongoing development of characters and relationships and I think reading them in the right order does improve the experience.

The author has also written novels about the two Emperors who were in power in Rome at the time these stories are set: "The Course of Honour" about Vespasian's love affair with his mistress Caenis, and "Master and God" about his son Domitian.
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