Flavia Albia is an informer and she’s good at her job – and how could she not be with Marcus Didius Falco as her adoptive father? When the rather handsome grey-eyed aedile Tiberius Manlius Faustus hires her (over a rather dodgy breakfast in the even dodgier Stargazer bar) to investigate the murders of newly weds Valerius Aviola and Mucia Lucilia, there is a sting in the tail. The slaves of the unfortunate pair are all suspected of killing their master and mistress and, despite having claimed sanctuary in the Temple of Ceres (an unhappy state of affairs for the Temple’s administrators), their days are numbered. Torture and the arena lions will be their destiny unless Albia is able to prove that they are innocent. Of course, this presupposes that they are innocent and Albia only has to take one look at the slaves lounging in the sunny courtyard of the Temple to have her doubts on that fact.
There is a second sting in the tail – Albia finds herself lumbered with a slave problem of her own in the sullen shape of Dromo, a loan from Manlius Faustus. No doubt he thought he was being helpful.
Enemies at Home is a whodunnit and it is an excellent one. Flavia Albia has quite a task on her hands. The murdered couple seemed to be in the grip of newly wedded bliss but as Albia digs she uncovers more than a few secrets, as well as the odd legacy-hunting relative. With the master and mistress dead and the majority of the slaves hiding in the Temple, Albia is largely left to the opinions of steward Polycarpus, a freedman with ambitions of his own, and the neighbours, the majority of whom appeared to have been afflicted with deafness on the night in question. Luckily, Albia is tenacious and streetwise, drawing on her own past experiences, as well as her extraordinary intuition. As a young independent working widow, potential witnesses are not quite sure what to make of Albia, who is not at all a slave but is slightly less than respectable.
Apart from the mystery itself – which is a good one and kept me gripped right to the last satisfying page – the case throws up all kinds of interesting themes about life in 1st-century AD Rome, such as the rights of women but most especially the lot of the slave. Albia is under no illusions. There is an air of resignation about some of the things that Albia says, dutybound, to the slaves in this novel. The uncertainty that slaves would face on the death of a master, quite apart from any of the suspicion that might see them tortured or worse, was horrendous – being paraded naked in Rome’s slaves markets, separated from ones children, for sale – what kind of a reward is that for several years of one’s life, perhaps all of one’s life?
Albia’s relationship with Manlius Faustus is intriguing and fun, even romantic on a very rare occasion or two, but her relationship with the boy slave Dromo is fascinating and really quite complex, especially as the story develops.
Over the years, I have developed a deep attachment to Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels (and Falco himself). But while the earlier novels are well-read with tattered corners, the later books have not captivated me in the same way. Perhaps, this new series is a sign that Davis is herself less interested than she used to be. I hoped that this new series featuring Falco’s daughter would reinject some zest into this world and it really does. Lindsey Davis is a master of colouring in Rome’s history. Everyday details are scattered throughout, bringing Rome and its inhabitants to life. We follow Albia as she walks through the streets, between landmarks, and it is so easy to visualise. I know Rome quite well and I recognise it here. It really is so well done.
I am delighted to once again have a series by Lindsey Davis to follow through the years. I like Flavia Albia very much. I like the cameo appearances of relatives that we already know well from the Falco novels (although Falco himself is absent) and yet there are plenty of new characters and haunts to give this series its distinct flavour. It is very different from the Falco novels – the tone and tempo are different – and Albia, our narrator, has a voice of her own. Enemies at Home also has, very importantly for a murder mystery, a story that makes you want to keep turning the pages and following the clues and red herrings until you find out who did it.
This is the second of the series. It doesn’t matter at all if you haven’t read the first, The Ides of April. I haven’t, but I intend to correct that very soon.