Lindsey Davis’ eighth Flavia Albia novel, Grove of the Caesars, finds modern resonance in historical Rome.
With her husband away tending to a family emergency, Albia has her hands complete just managing her family, perennially beneath upkeep and accordingly a large draw for unscrupulous contractors. The discovery of a snatch of historic scrolls ends in a search for their provenance, within the hope that they’ll fetch a good charge at auction. This home fuss and bother is upended whilst a body is found inside the sacred grove of Julius Caesar, and workmen screen that it is not the first. To convey a serial killer to justice, Albia should work alongside Julius Karus, an boastful member of the Vigiles (the firefighters and police of historical Rome) who seems content to accept clean answers anywhere he finds them.
There is so much to unpack in this story, which balances a honestly grim collection of crimes with numerous funny subplots, frequently intermingling them in surprising ways. Two young enslaved boys proficient to Albia’s household witness the killing and disappear; what begins as an extraordinary bit of comedian remedy ends in a mixture of tragedy and tenderness. Albia herself continues to be a treasure, grateful for her place in society because it was no longer always such, however inclined to disobey almost any order if her curiosity is piqued.
Davis fills her memories with meticulous research, and the information make for such rich reading, we would probable observe Albia on an afternoon of errands and light entertainment with out a crime to talk of. But it’s thrilling to observe her observe a line of inquiry and join the dots that others fail to see, so we may be happy that she rarely fails to find hassle and charge headlong in the direction of it.