A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia 6)

Written by Lindsey Davis
Review by Catherine Kullmann

Lindsey Davis is unsurpassed when it comes to murder, mischief, and mayhem at Saturnalia, or indeed at any other time in ancient Rome. As Flavia Albia and her magistrate husband Tiberius come to terms with the sudden addition of his three- and five-year-old nephews to their already chaotic household, they must also prepare for the mid-December drunken riot that is Saturnalia or the feast of the Undying Sun. Nuts are both the snack and missile of choice of the revellers, and Tiberius, whose term as plebian aedile is coming to an end, becomes aware that someone is not only trying to corner the nut market, forcing the usual suppliers out of business, but is also supplying inferior, mouldy goods.

When this leads to a bad dose of food-poisoning in his own household, Tiberius is even more determined to track down the culprits. With murder and arson added to the mix, it becomes imperative to identify and immobilise the new guys in the Aventine before they are established too firmly, and this at a time when everything comes to a halt because of Saturnalia. Flavia Albia and Tiberius are hampered not only by their own family festivities but also by the infamous annual party of the Fourth Cohort of the Vigiles, held at a secret venue, and the Emperor’s spectacular entertainment for thousands. As usual, they rise to all professional and private challenges.

This is vintage Lindsey Davis. She is famous for the one-word chapter, but here we have one with a single character. She writes with verve and vitality, swooping from comedy to tragedy to a satisfying conclusion, with a tip of a Saturnalia wreath to Tiberius’s pie charts.