Enemies At Home by Lindsey Davis

This was totally up my street.  I loved it. ‘Enemies at Home’ is the latest in what appears to be a long and successful series of novels about members of a family investigating crime in ancient Rome in the time of the emperor Domitian.

DomitianDomitian  was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96, and the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

That I have not read a single one of these novels, and yet was gripped from the start tells its own story.  Details pertaining to events passed felt as natural as friends going over old times, not intrusive, explanatory or out of place.  Not knowing the full details merely felt tantalising.

The story moves at a manageable pace, not too quickly that you miss bits, not slowly enough to ever lose interest.  The ending, however, does feel rushed, just a few pages to explore an interesting turn of events and it ends unsatisfactorily, a delicate cliffhanger. I suppose Ms Davis wants us to read the next one and only then will she give us the answers we crave.

The main character is Flavia Albia who is a feisty, intelligent woman who, from what I can gather from my poor knowledge of how ancient Rome works, floating at the periphery of society, not a slave and not of a nature to make herself accepted. She’s strong, willful, clever and infinitely likeable.

Her foil is a Roman aedile, a magistrate, who hires her to help solve a crime.  There is some history between the two, touched on but presumably explained in a previous novel, but that doesn’t actually spoil my knowledge and understanding of them, indeed it makes their undefined relationship that little bit more enticing.  One is desperate to know how it develops as it could go either way.

I was very impressed with Ms Davis’ ability to imbue even her peripheral characters with great personality.  And she is able to draw the reader in to feel compassion for characters she has no intention of ending well. 

This being a proof copy it was missing the Historical note and the maps that are promised.  That is a pity, I’d love see these so I expect to be found in a branch of Waterstones having a look soon, especially at the historical note, but with a knowledge of Rome I was able to, just, keep track of the locations and picture what Flavia’s Rome would have looked like.  A Romanophile will find this novel extremely pleasing with her geographical descriptions and portrayal of the everyday lives of normal Romans.

Ms Davis has obviously had a long time and much practice with honing the language used by her characters.  She chooses colloquial language, no attempt to sound how we might expect a Roman to sound, and this makes her characters lively and spontaneous, and far easier to identify with.

A great novel, a gripping story, and I’ll happily read the next.

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