The Grove of the Caesars: Flavia Albia 8

Written by Lindsey Davis
Review by Vicki Kondelik

This is the eighth book in Lindsey Davis’s mystery series featuring Flavia Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, an investigator in ancient Rome during the reign of the paranoid emperor Domitian. Flavia’s husband, Tiberius, goes to visit his dying sister and leaves Flavia in charge of his latest building project, a grotto in the Grove of the Caesars. Flavia is warned not to go into the grove, which is part of the public gardens that Julius Caesar left to the people of Rome. Women have been murdered in the grove for two decades, and the vigiles, the ancient Roman police, have not made an effort to investigate, because most of the victims were prostitutes. But Flavia is not to be deterred. She goes into the grove and finds buried scrolls by obscure Greek philosophers. Then the dead body of a wealthy man’s wife turns up, and the widower asks Flavia to find the killer. But will Flavia be the next victim?

Davis knows the customs of ancient Rome extremely well, and she brings the daily life of the city alive for the reader. She describes the building industry, auction houses, and the scroll trade in great detail here, and I found what she says about scroll-sellers especially fascinating. Many of them were crooked, making forged scrolls and selling them. The mystery of the scrolls Flavia finds is just as compelling as her search for the killer. Flavia is a strong protagonist, with her father’s dry wit and sarcasm. She is basically a solitary person and is getting used to married life, even though her husband is largely absent in this book. I missed the way they bounce ideas off each other, but fans of Falco will be glad that their hero makes an appearance here.