Prather's Pick: "The Ides of April" is historically mysterious

This week’s novel for adults is a new (2013) book at the Moffat County Library. It’s a mystery, set in Rome, the Aventine Hill, in March and April AD 89.

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Diane Prather

“The Ides of April” was written by Lindsey Davis. I have not read any of the novels written by Davis until now. According to a list in the inside cover of this week’s book, Davis has written about 20 novels that are from the “Falco Series,” beginning with “The Silver Pig.” All of the novels in this series feature Marcus Didius Falco.

This week’s book is the first one in a “Falco: The Next Generation” series, specifically “The Flavia Albia Novels,” which feature Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco.

Flavia Albia was an orphan since her birth. Nobody knew the identity of her birth parents, where she was born or when. She was found on the streets of a “shanty town” and the shopkeepers cared for her. In short, she was a street-child. She ran away. When Didius Falco and Helena Justina found Flavia, they adopted her. Flavia became a citizen of Rome and chose the Ides of April as her birthday, which is where the novel’s title comes from.

As the novel begins, readers meet Flavia. She’s 28 years old and has been a widow for eight years. Flavia makes her living as a private informer, a job similar to a private investigator of modern times. It’s Flavia’s job to snoop around and to interview people so that she can find missing heirs, runaway adolescents and even missing chickens. She also investigates deaths and accidents — pretty much whatever people need investigated.

Flavia’s father, Marcus Didius Falco, was an informer too, and was said to be a good one. In fact, Flavia has kept an office and apartment at Fountain Court where he worked.

The name may sound luxurious, but the building at Fountain Court is far from it. Flavia can’t even use the balcony of her upstairs office because it’s in danger of falling apart. She has thought of moving, but the office always has been an informer’s office, so clients know where to find her.

Flavia’s living quarters are in the lower part of the building. Few people even know that the apartment even exists, and that’s the way Flavia likes it.

There’s a map of Rome and a cast of characters in the beginning of the book. There are enough characters to fill up two pages, and I found the list helpful in keeping all of them straight. There are a lot of names in the book.

As the novel opens, 3-year-old Lucius Bassus has died after being run over by a builder’s cart owned by Metellus and Nepos, a crew that does renovations and other such projects. Talk is that the cart was overloaded and the driver was drunk. Neighbors have suggested that the parents are entitled to payment. They think that an informer should look into the legal aspects. A poster goes up asking witnesses to come forward.

You would think that Flavia would be signed up by the mother of the boy. However, she is signed on by Salvidia, the owner of Metellus and Nepos. Flavia is to use her informer skills to help “beat off the mother’s claim.”

Inquiries take Flavia to the office of the aediles, some powerful Roman officials. That’s where she meets up with Andronicus, an archivist, and Tiberius, a messenger. These two characters figure heavily in the book’s plot (and there are plenty of other characters, too).

But then Salvidia suddenly dies. Flavia loses payment for her informer work. However, she is hired on by Nepos, who wants Flavia to investigate his stepmother’s death. He says that Salvidia was perfectly fine in the morning, but then she keeled over and died.

That’s not all. Salvidia’s death is followed by other sudden, unexplained fatalities. Before long, Flavia is working with others to solve the mysteries.

This is an interesting book since it has a historical setting. The reader will learn a lot about early Rome while engaged in the novel’s plot.

“The Ides of April: A Flavia Albia Mystery” is published by Minotaur Books. It costs $25.99 in hardcover. You also find can the book at the Craig Branch of the Moffat County Libraries.

Author Lindsey Davis lives in London.

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