We first met Flavia Albia, Falco’s feisty adopted daughter, in The Ides of April. Albia is a remarkable woman in what is very much a man’s world: young, widowed and fiercely independent, she lives alone on the Aventine Hill in Rome and makes a good living as a hired investigator. An outsider in more ways than one, Albia has unique insight into life in ancient Rome, and she puts it to good use going places no man could go, and asking questions no man could ask.
Even as the dust settles from her last case, Albia finds herself once again drawn into a web of lies and intrigue. Two mysterious deaths at a local villa may be murder and, as the household slaves are implicated, Albia is once again forced to involve herself. Her fight is not just for truth and justice, however; this time, she’s also battling for the very lives of people who can’t fight for themselves.
It’s once more unto the breech for Flavia Alba in the second book of her series, Enemies at Home. I enjoyed the first of this series, The Ides of April, but for some reason I never managed to fit in the next book onto the reviewing schedule. With book three in the series released last month, this historical fiction month seemed like a great time to catch up on both of the books. And I have to say I enjoyed Enemies at Home even more than I did The Ides of April.
What bothered me most about the previous book was how modern Albia’s voice felt. This time around, whether because I was now used to Albia or because in the intermittent years I’ve read my books set in Roman times, Albia’s voice didn’t feel like a distraction in fact it was one of my favourite things about the narrative. Albia is distinctive and funny. Her acerbic wit and often somewhat snarky asides never failed to amuse me and I was greatly entertained by her narration of the story.
Albia is still the headstrong, independent, fearless investigator we met in The Ides of April. She’s a very entertaining character and a keen observer of everything and everyone around her. What I like about Albia’s investigative style is that she isn’t given to Sherlockian flashes of genius insights, but to dogged persistence and logical thinking. The wonderful Aedile Manlius Faustus returns and this time he is Albia’s client, giving her the assignment of figuring out who murdered a newly-wed couple. I love the connection between Albia and Faustus, which is flirty and fun, but also based on genuine respect and friendship. In addition to Faustus and several other returning characters, we also meet some new characters. Chief amongst these is Dromo, a slave assigned by Faustus to protect Albia during her investigations. I thought he was a great character and he had some genuinely comic scenes, but also some of the most heartbreaking ones. Through him we learn more about Albia’s background, which might be old news for readers of Davis’ Falco series which is about Albia’s father, but for new readers makes for interesting reading.
While The Ides of April was set in Albia’s home neighbourhood the Aventine, in Enemies at Home the action moves across town to the Esquiline. This meant that Albia is very much out of her comfort zone and lacking most of her usual contacts. The new stomping grounds in the Esquiline mean having to work twice as hard to find clues and figure out what happens and it shows off some of Albia’s strongest skills, especially the way she creates connections with people, other women in particular. There is one specific scene towards the end of the book where an impromptu gathering of women gives Albia the final pieces to solve the puzzle and I really loved the way Davis put that together. It also showed the silent power of Roman wives, be they powerful matriarchs or freedman’s wife. I appreciated Davis’ portrayal of the lives of Roman women and the surprising freedoms they had.
Albia’s case in Enemies at Home is a tough one, that centres on the legal obligations of slaves to their masters and the powerless positions slaves found themselves in. Slavery is always a tough subject, because it is such a heinous institution. I had mixed feelings about its portrayal here, because Albia both acknowledges it is an awful practice, yet at the same time seems to casually accept it and expect the slaves she encounters to be resigned to their fates and serve their time until they are freed for good service, if they are that lucky at all. I found it confusing, though it could be interpreted as an illustration how ingrained the practice was in society and that even if one knows it is wrong and would like to change it, actually changing even one’s own attitude requires a lot of work and constant awareness of one’s thought patterns.
In the end, Flavia Albia’s second outing was better for me than her first and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into Deadly Election, Lindsey Davis’ latest instalment in the series. If you enjoy fun, witty, and smart female investigators, Flavia Albia is a protagonist you won’t want to miss and Enemies at Home is a great introduction to her. In fact, I might even recommend starting with this book instead of The Ides of April as it stands alone quite well and Albia hits her stride from the beginning.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.