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by Lindsey Davis
Hodder & Stoughton, April 2013
368 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444755811

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's never easy when your hero grows old. Marcus Didius Falco, the former legionnaire turned detective who solved a series of major crimes, won the respect of an emperor and wooed a senator's daughter, established Davis as a brilliant, if quirky, author, and brought her a stack of professional awards plus one for 'enhancing the image of Rome'. But Falco is now comfortably retired, running his 'Del Boy-ish' late father's more or less legitimate business as an auctioneer and antique dealer.

Lindsey Davis is an excellent historian (don't forget her brilliant work on the life of the Emperor Vespasian), knows there are far more stories in the snarled web of deceit, sex, lies, politics, perversions, cruelty and killings that made up ancient Rome. So, bravely, she has launched Falco: The New Generation, featuring his independently-minded British adopted daughter Flavia Albia. Brave because it's always difficult to kill off a winner, although Falco and his equally independent wife Helena make occasional appearances, mainly by reference, but also because although it is true that women wielded enormous influence on the Eternal City, they had virtually no legal status.

The links to the past are there, but Flavia Albia is very much the main character in her own setting, though the location will be familiar, as she lives on the Aventine Hill, where her father lived and practised in the first of his twenty adventures. Like her father, Flavia Albia has a fiercely irreverent and independent streak and a drive to succeed. Being a woman both limits her, and gives her an advantage when dealing with female clients as she suffers the everyday problems and limitations they face. When a none too savoury client dies suddenly, her main concern is that she won't be paid, but the woman's stepson suspects the death, asks her to investigate and she soon finds that other, previously healthy people have died suddenly. A random poison murderer is stalking the streets. Flavia Albia is warned off by the nervous authorities her Rome is always just a good riot away from an assassination and change of emperor but when it becomes clear a female investigator might help, she is somewhat unwillingly co-opted to join Morellus, a lazy, but bright vigiles commander, and Tiberius, who works for the aedile Manlius Faustus, to track the killer.

This is a historical mystery with a good plot based on fact believable characters and plenty of humour. As a piece of detection, it's not great, villain and denouement are both pretty well telegraphed, but Falco was hardly Sherlock Holmes either. Flavia Albia is extremely likeable, human and fallible, brave and resourceful. If you enjoyed Falco you will find this sparky young widow a more than worthy successor. If you haven't followed her father's career, welcome to the brave new world of the tough, witty, politically aware, yet very feminine Flavia Albia.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, April 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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