Roman History is definitely not my thing. Not even Russell Crowe in Gladiator could do it for me – and neither could it take away the childhood trauma of watching three hours of Fall of The Roman Empire. Murder and Crime fiction is not my usual choice either, so this book is certainly not one that would actually grace my bookshelf. But after reading the blurb inside the rather plain looking front cover, I must admit I was slightly intrigued.
Set in Rome 89AD, Flavia Albia is investigating a series of seemingly mysterious deaths; however, the local authorities are determined to thwart her at every turn. As her local neighbourhood prepares for the Ides of April celebrations, Albia discovers the mysterious deaths are the work of a serial killer, whose attacks become more close to home as the festival draws nearer.
Rome vs. Las Vegas
I began reading with some enthusiasm, not realising I was about to be disappointed. Instead of being transported to Ancient Rome, I felt I was actually in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace, with locations such as the Stargazers Bar. As a character, Albia is extremely likeable, with a dry wit narrative which flows through the story in a fast pace, making the book an enjoyable read. The terminology used, however, is very modern day and I found myself wondering if this was a historical fiction novel at all? Any history of the period was mentioned as a token, a brief after-thought to fit into the niche of historical fiction. I found myself craving to know more about the Roman period, and if anything written genuinely actually reflected Roman life.
So, I decided to just enjoy it for what it was, a murder mystery set in Rome. However, this didn’t last long… I’m no Miss Marple but even I managed to figure out ‘who’d done it’ by Chapter 20. The obligatory twist at the end was a particular eye rolling moment, and a ‘yep, should have seen it coming!’ It was so obvious, that it left me feeling a bit frustrated.
A modern history
I felt Davis was trying to straddle two genres in this novel, but failed dismally on both accounts. I actually felt disappointed that the story never quite reached its potential – it had all the ingredients; a mystery, a likeable main character, a very clever historical means of murder and a potential cult involvement. But for me, by missing out the critical historical features, by being too modern, and never quite reaching any level of danger, I was left thinking it was far too light-hearted and flippant to be taken seriously.
If you’re after an easy, light yet enjoyable read then this could be the book for you. If you are a Roman enthusiastic or crime book fanatic then I would suggest searching elsewhere.