In the blazing July heat of imperial Rome, Flavia Albia inspects a decomposing corpse. It has been discovered in lots to be auctioned by her family business, so she’s determined to identify the dead man and learn how he met his gruesome end.
The investigation will give her a chance to work with the magistrate, Manlius Faustus, the friend she sadly knows to be the last chaste man in Rome. But he’s got other concerns than her anonymous corpse. It’s election time and with democracy for sale at Domitian’s court, tension has come to a head. Faustus is acting as an agent for a ‘good husband and father’, whose traditional family values are being called into question. Even more disreputable are his rivals, whom Faustus wants Albia to discredit.
As Albia’s and Faustus’ professional and personal partnership deepens they have to accept that, for others, obsession can turn sour, and become a deadly strain that leads, tragically, to murder.
Deadly Election is book three in the Flavia Albia series and returns us to Rome about a month after the events of the previous book Enemies at Home. This book was a lot of fun, but in some ways far more about Albia and Faustus than about the case. We learn more about Albia’s role as her father’s representative at the family auction house, about Faustus’ past, and perhaps most importantly and most entertainingly the developing bond between Albia en Faustus.
The case at the heart of the book can be summed up as it’s all about the Julia’s. Once again Davis shows how much Roman life revolved around the family structure and how deeply rooted family loyalty and honour is and simultaneously how deeply families can be torn apart internally when things go wrong. It also showed how complex Roman family life was when people divorced and remarried for advantage, not just love, and those decisions were often made by the head of the family, not the partners themselves. Not to mention how hard this must have been for the offspring of the various marriage and the way their loyalties would be pulled six ways till Sunday. Life in Rome seems to have been a messy business.
I loved seeing more of Flavia Albia the auctioneer’s daughter, instead of Albia the private investigator. The glimpses we got of the day to day running of the auction house was quite interesting and I always love a good auction scene. The fact that Albia gets to wield the gavel was the icing on the cake. The way Falco, and by extension Albia, treat their employees says a lot about their outlook on life. I loved the fact that they got their head porter Gornia a donkey to get around on to accommodate his advanced age. Patchy the donkey was a great element to the narrative, with him consistently showing up and having to arrange for his care being something Albia has to deal with, instead of him just being transportation.
As the title might have given away, there is a lot of political intrigue in the narrative. Set against the campaign for the election of the new aediles of Rome, it turns out that politics actually haven’t changed that much in over 2000 years. Albia is hired by Faustus to dig up dirt on all the various candidates that are running against the candidate he is campaigning for, his childhood friend Vibius. The dirt Albia finds ranges from the somewhat shameful to the tragic. At the same time she is also investigating the dead body found at her family’s warehouse in one of the items they are to auction. The way these investigation intertwine is quite well done and I really enjoyed putting the puzzle together. During the course of Albia’s investigation we finally get to meet Faustus’ uncle Tullius, who turns out to be even worse than he’d been previously described, which made for a very cool confrontation between him and Albia. The one complaint I had about the character list is that there were a great number of similarly named people and if not for the dramatis personae at the start of the novel, I would have had to take notes to keep them straight.
My favourite thing about the book was the slow tango between Albia and Faustus and I absolutely loved its conclusion. There were some lovely touches, such as the dolphin bench that ends up in Albia’s courtyard and Faustus’ worrying about Albia’s health. And Dromo’s commentary on Albia and Faustus made for some delightful comic relief. It’ll be interesting to see how Albia and Faustus will develop their relationship in the next book, and I’m curious whether and to what extent their partnership echoes – or perhaps mirrored is a better term – that of Albia’s parents. Could any of my readers enlighten me on that score?
While this may not have been my favourite case of the three books featuring Albia thus far, I loved the character development in Deadly Election as the Albia/Faustus dynamic is my favourite thing about this series. I’m very much looking forward to reading Albia’s next adventure. If you enjoy a well-written, humour-infused, Roman mystery then you can’t go wrong with Deadly Election and the Flavia Albia series as a whole.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.