After 20 novels following Falco Didius Marcus down the mean streets of Ancient Rome, best-selling author Lindsey Davis has spun off a new series featuring his adopted daughter Flavia Albia. There’s a distinct whiff of chick-lit trendiness here—Albia, now 28, is a decidedly modern girl, a professional woman with her own business, her own apartment, and her own unique fashion sense, free to live—and love—as she pleases, but don’t expect Sex and the City with togas.
That’s because Albia’s taken over Dad’s old Fountain Court office in the Surbura district, and is now working as a private “informer” herself. She’s a little angrier and more impulsive than her old man, perhaps, but just as outraged by hypocrisy and corruption as dear old Dad ever was, and just as adept at spouting her own era-appropriate Chandlerisms, whether it’s a display of crushed idealism disguised as cynicism (“Even the Vestals weren’t virgins anymore”) or a wiseass simile (“I was in there like a louse up a tramp’s tunic”). Which makes her an ideal traveling companion as we once more revel in the colorful characters and sharply etched period detail Davis is known for.
Particularly ideal since the book’s a little slow when it comes to actual plot. Set 10 years after the events in the last Falco mystery, Nemesis (2010), Albia, already married and widowed, is short on cash and reluctantly working for an unpleasant woman, Salvidia, a general contractor being sued for negligence in the death of a young boy. When Salvidia’s untimely death is revealed to be yet another in a string of unexplained deaths sweeping through Rome, the unpaid Albia starts asking questions, much to the dismay of her parents (gotta keep those mommy/daddy issues simmering) and the local authorities, who aren’t too keen on having a woman poking around on their turf.
But as the deaths pile up, it becomes clear a serial killer is in their midst, and the local vigiles need all the help they can get. A handsome but secretive archivist, an uneasy alliance with the local aedile’s surly investigator (who has some secrets of his own), and a PETA-approved (if slightly anachronistic) subplot revolving around cruelty to foxes used during the upcoming Feast of Ceres add welcome curves and help move the rather straightforward plot along to a predictable but satisfying conclusion. The gods willing, we’ll be seeing more of this girl.