Deadly Election | Lindsey Davis | 2015 | Hodder & Stoughton | 386p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is July 89 AD and anyone unlucky enough to be spending the summer months in Rome and not in a luxurious beachside villa is hot and bothered. There are some minor compensations, however. Elections are on for the post of Plebeian Aedile. Domitian might be emperor – which means the only elections allowed to be held are rigged elections – but that won’t stop the Romans doing what they do best: arguing about politics while loudly praising the imperial favourites. Flavia Albia is also in Rome, driven out of her parents’ holiday villa by their fussing over her, following her recent serious illness. She’s weak and more reliant than ever on her friendly magistrate Faustus, but she’s happy to be occupied by her family’s auction business, especially when one of the lots, a big chest, is opened up and found to contain a somewhat ripe dead body.
Deadly Election is the third investigative outing for Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, surely Rome’s most famous private detective and imperial spy, and the patrician Helen. As the body count rises, a weakened and more vulnerable than usual Flavia isn’t on her own. Faustus is increasingly close at hand and there’s also the extended family of both Falco and Helen, some of whom are particularly useful as they own taverns, as well as Falco’s old friend and brother in arms Petronius. Faustus is especially preoccupied by the election, sponsoring a pair of the candidates, and he has given himself the task of raking up dirt on their opponents. Flavia is perfectly placed and qualified to help him in this task and so the two of them become caught up in election fever. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the election has more than a little to do with the body in the box. Incredibly, Flavia is still able to fit in a little auctioneering not to mention a spot of flirting as Faustus starts to come to his senses and realise what’s good for him.
I’ve been reading Lindsey Davis novels for as long as she’s been writing them, which would be about thirty years. I have loved and adored the Falco series but was ready, during its latter stages, for the author to move on. I like Flavia Albia very much indeed and it’s clear as the series continues that there could be as many Flavia adventures as there are Falco. She’s about thirty years old and an independent widow, two characteristics that give a woman more freedom in Roman society to stick her nose in where it might not be wanted. She also has the back up of Falco and, although he doesn’t appear (at least not yet), he is an important figure in Flavia’s life and he’s frequently and fondly mentioned, as are his many relations, although perhaps for them with less fondness.
The second Flavia novel, Enemies at Home, was especially strong and I fear that Deadly Election does not quite reach its standard, even though its election setting is especially relevant at the moment here in Britain. The pace is much slower here. Flavia has been seriously ill and this has slowed her down but the murder plot does not develop quickly, taking second place to the political wrangling and squabbling of the election as well as the deepening romance between Flavia and Faustus. In a way it reminds me of the early courting days of Falco and Helen and, like then, I’ll be glad when they work it out and get over it. It is a pity, though, that the murder plot is quite dry.
The lack of pace is compensated for in large measure by the wonderful array of characters. This election has drawn together a motley crew, all deeply suspicious of one another, and the scandals mount and become increasingly personal. The main appeal of Deadly Election, as with all the Falco and Flavia novels, is Lindsey Davis’s marvellous writing and turn of phrase. Rome is brought to life in brilliant colour and it is inhabited by richly fleshed out inhabitants, thanks to Lindsey Davis’s wit and mastery of conversation. It is a pure delight to spend time in this Rome. It is a hot and dangerous place in 89 AD and Lindsey Davis knows just how to throw us into the thick of it.
Enemies at Home