Desperate Undertaking: A Flavia Albia Novel

Lindsey Davis. Minotaur, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-79988-3

Davis’s superior 10th whodunit featuring private inquiry agent Flavia Albia (after 2021’s A Comedy of Terrors) combines an engrossing plot with a plausible evocation of life in ancient Rome. In 89 CE, Davos, an actor friend of Flavia’s adoptive parents, Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Falco, seeks their help probing the murder of Chremes, an actor-manager who also knew the older Falcos, who was “stripped naked and hung up to die on a cross” in one of Emperor Domitian’s stadiums. The emperor had modified performances of a popular drama so that the lead role—a bandit—would be played by a condemned criminal, enabling the execution by crucifixion at the end to be real. Outside the arena where Chremes was found, someone had posted a fake notice advertising the dead man’s upcoming appearance in the play as a means of getting passersby to enter and view the grim tableau. Meanwhile, Flavia has another bizarre murder to solve—a woman gored to death by a bull who identified “the undertaker” as her killer just before expiring. The tension is sustained throughout, and the mystery of the murders satisfactorily explained. This entry reinforces Davis’s place at the top of the Ancient Roman historical subgenre. (July)
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