Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis
2 September, 2014
Welcome back Flavia Albia, just when I was really beginning to miss you. Falco’s determined adopted daughter, Flavia Albia is back with her second case in Enemies at Home. Although Falco doesn’t pop up in this novel, his presence is everywhere and we also do get a glimpse of his lovely wife, Helena Justina. Fans of Lindsey Davis’ 20 Roman mysteries featuring Marcus Didius Falco will miss him, but Albia is quickly beginning to fill his shoes, not only career-wise, but also with her street-smart, wise-cracking ways. But although the same age as Falco when he started his adventures, Albia’s personality is darker, more watchful as she’s experienced life at its worst in her childhood and as a young widow living in a Rome ruled by a paranoid tyrant.
After her adventures in The Ides of April, Albia is once again drawn into a seemingly simple dual murder by the Aedile, Manlius Faustus, with whom she has worked before and therefore has a complicated relationship. Newlywed Aviola and his second wife Lucilia are found murdered in their bed and a large cache of valuable silver is missing. What looks like an inside job becomes complicated as the household slaves seek sanctuary in the Temple of Ceres. If they are found guilty, then execution beckons. If not, there is a murderer on the loose and Manilius Faustus is given the task of finding who did it as the Temple lies in his jurisdiction. He commissions Albia for the job of finding clues and she in turn asks her uncles, the Camillus brothers, for legal advice. And so begins a dark and convoluted search for a killer and a horde of silver that seems to have disappeared into thin air. What really went on in the Aviola household? And what about the ex-wife and children hungry for their inheritance? And how complex were the domestic relationships especially when two households merge resulting in possible redundancies, in this case the selling of surplus slaves? As Albia uncovers secret after secret, she soon learns that more than one person is hiding something to safeguard their future. Will she find who murdered the couple before another gets killed? And what exactly does Faustus think of her?
Although darker in tone than most of the Falco novels, Enemies at Home is a little lighter than The Ides of April with little pockets of comedy wedged amongst the more hard hitting historical detail which makes Davis’ novels such superb and informative reads. One of things I love about Davis’ writing is that, like a good historian, she doesn’t judge what the Romans get up to. As Albia and Faustus are both Romans, their views, only rightly, will be that of a contemporary Roman. However disturbing and harsh we may view their cultural and social rules today, they accept and work within it. In Enemies at Home, Davis brings home the harsh realities of being a Roman slave. Just as one can strive for and attain manumission, setting themselves and their descendants free, another can lead a life of wretched misery from cradle to grave. Roman laws deem a slave must always protect their master and they can be executed simply for not doing their job. As is the case with Aviola’s slaves, even if they did not do the killings, Albia and Faustus must determine whether the slaves had done enough to protect their master and mistress. And if not, the consequences are dire.
Enemies at Home is an enjoyable and interesting novel with a nicely plotted mystery at its heart. I sort of guessed whodunnit but Davis provides the reader with enough suspects to keep you guessing until the end. Can’t wait to see what Rome has in store for Albia next!