ONE VIRGIN TOO MANY
by Lindsey Davis
This is the eleventh entry in this popular series about Marcus Didius Falco "the world's first private eye". At long last it looks as though he is getting somewhere and is about to enter into the hallowed ranks of the Equestrians or Roman middle class. He even has a new post; Procurator of the Sacred Poultry and it also looks as though he might be about to move house. He needs a new partner and has also just had to tell his sister Maia some bad news so the last thing he needs after just having returned from Tripolitania is a resplendently dressed patrician tot of six years getting down from her litter outside his house. Gaia insists that she is in danger of being murdered but Falco doesn't believe her. He soon learns that she is the most likely candidate to become the new Vestal Virgin and when she goes missing he wishes he had listened to her. Then what about the body in the Sacred Grove of the Arval Brothers that Helena's brother has just found? Falco, under orders from Titus Caesar has to solve the case before it is too late.
I like a book where the characters and their situations grow and change as real life is after all like that. I do hope that Falco and his family do move to their new house and we find out how he fares in a different stratum of society. Certainly Ms Davis is adept at describing the daily lives of dysfunctional families and there are two in here with relationships worthy of a soap opera. The plot could do with a bit of beefing up and hurrying along as any suspense is soon dispelled for the action moves so slowly – too slowly for a gripping detective novel. Falco narrates the story with the views of a time traveller or a foreign tourist regarding religion which is rather at odds with what people generally regard as being the normal view of people towards their deities until very recently. The priests, Vestals and others have their own reasons for enjoying their exalted roles and the views of the other characters are hard to discern - the whole thing felt too secular to be the true way 1st century Romans looked at their pantheon. For me the most absorbing thing is the way the people interact and the tangled relationships within their families. A faster-paced plot and some values more akin to the ancient world would frost and put the cherry on top of what could be a delicious confection.
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