Deadly Election is the third in Lindsey Davis’ new series of mysteries featuring Flavia Albia, a private informer in ancient Rome during the reign of the tyrannical emperor Domitian. Flavia is an orphan from Britain, adopted by Marcus Didius Falco, the protagonist of Davis’ long-running mystery series, and his wife, the aristocratic Helena Justina. Falco, now retired as an informer, is an auctioneer with his family’s firm. Flavia is called to the scene when a dead body is found in a chest which is being put up for auction by a prominent family. Since this is Rome in July, the body is so deteriorated that no one can identify it. Flavia decides to investigate who the dead man is, and who killed him. At the same time, her love interest, the magistrate Manlius Faustus, asks her for help with his friend Sextus Vibius’ political campaign. Flavia goes in search of scandals in Sextus’ rivals’ lives, which might discredit them. But she discovers that not only do his rivals have secrets, but Sextus’ reputation is by no means spotless. His wife has mysteriously vanished, and there are rumors that he beats her. Then a second body is found in the chest, and Flavia starts to believe there is a connection between the bodies and the election.
Davis is wonderful at providing details of life in ancient Rome, and in this book you learn a lot about Roman elections, and you will see that some things have not changed in all these years. It’s fascinating to learn about the origins of the words “candidate” and “competitor”, for example. Politicians in general had the same reputation then as now. Davis deliberately uses modern language and anachronistic terms, which I find delightful, but which some readers have criticized. Flavia is her usual witty, sarcastic self, and this is definitely her series. Davis has wisely kept Falco and Helena offstage. Readers will miss them, but this is Flavia’s own series, not a continuation of the Falco series. I also love the banter between Flavia and Faustus. Their relationship develops in a very satisfying way in this book, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next. Davis’ list of characters, with its hilarious descriptions, makes for delightful reading on its own. There is one family in which all the women are named Julia, and even the character list doesn’t straighten it all out. But Davis does provide a family tree towards the end. It contains spoilers, though, so it’s best not to consult it until you’ve read that far in the book. I am looking forward to more of Flavia’s adventures, and I believe the fourth volume in the series is about to be published.
Deadly Election is available from the Browsing Collection in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library: http://mirlyn.lib.umich.edu/Record/013822344