In Rome, ruled by the erratic Emperor Domitian, Flavia Albia is dragged into the worst sort of investigation—a politically charged murder—in Lindsey Davis’s next historical mystery, A Capitol Death.
A man falls to his death from the Tarpeian Rock, which overlooks the Forum in the Capitoline Hill in Ancient Rome. While it looks like a suicide, one witness swears that she saw it happen and that he was pushed. Normally, this would attract very little official notice but this man happened to be in charge of organizing the Imperial Triumphs demanded by the emperor.
The Emperor Domitian, autocratic and erratic, has decided that he deserves two Triumphs for his so-called military victories. The Triumphs are both controversial and difficult to stage because of the not-so-victorious circumstances that left them without treasure or captives to be paraded through the streets. Normally, the investigation would be under the auspices of her new(ish) husband but, worried about his stamina following a long recovery, private informer Flavia Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, steps in.
What a mistake that turns out to be. The deceased proves to have been none-too-popular, with far too many others with much to gain from his death. With the date of the Triumphs fast approaching, Flavia Albia must unravel a truly complex case of murder before danger shows up on her own doorstep.
An inauspicious death on the eve of Emperor Domitian's planned return to Rome in 89 C.E. sets the stage for Davis's superior seventh outing for informer Flavia Alba (after 2018's Pandora's Boy). The powers that be fear that the capricious Domitian will lash out, violently, after the possibly unnatural death of Gabinus, a worker helping to prepare for the imperial triumph to celebrate the emperor's recent military victory in the east. Gabinus apparently jumped to his death from the top of the Tarpeian Rock. But the initial consensus that he was a suicide is shattered by a witness who insists that a second person was near Gabinus at the time. When the question of what actually happened falls to Roman official Tiberius Manlius Faustus, he passes the inquiry on to his wife, Flavia, who finds no shortage of people who wished the dead man ill. Davis does her usual brilliant job of integrating the history of the period, warts and all (Domitian's ostensible victory was actually the result of his paying off the enemy's leaders), with a fast-paced and fair whodunit. This entry reinforces her place at the top of the historical mystery pack.
Humor, Love,and Mystery
Although A lover of mysteries, I read this serious (and the Falco series) more for the sardonic humor and view of Roman life than the plot. The mature love depicted between Albia and Tiberius Manlius Faustus makes this book special for me.