The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis (Falco: The New Generation #1)

4/10 I'll read the next, and hope for some major changes.

Flavia Albia is the adopted daughter of a famous investigating family. In defiance of tradition, she lives alone on the colourful Aventine Hill, and battles out a solo career in a male-dominated world. As a woman and an outsider, Albia has special insight into the best, and worst, of life in ancient Rome.

I've looked at all the 5 star reviews of this with some incredulity, particularly from those who say they've read all Ms Davis' Falco novels; then had to go back and check I've not missed something because I am so polarized from those reviews I began to doubt I had read the same book. This may be "Next Generation", but it's nowhere near the quality of Marcus Didius Falco, to the degree I seriously began to wonder if Ms Davis was the sole author of the book, especially over the first 8 or so chapters. Tone, style, characterization, descriptive narrative... all fall well well short of the standard I have lazily taken for granted in any Falco novel from this wonderful author (and I've read every novel she's published). The humour is missing as well, replaced by an acerbic narration from Falco's daughter that is, at times, so male-prejudiced it's incredible. I found myself skipping beyond passages that endlessly seemed to portray men as either sexual predators, or incompetent, unintelligent boors, or career-ladder-climbing halfwits, or rich old lechers. Even Albia's "love flirtation", Andronicus, comes across as a man so unctuous he could squeeze through a drain pipe with ease.

I read the novel with a growing incredulity. I can't quite believe Ms Davis (who produced some of the finest Roman novels out there) has written some of this. Throw in the rabid anti-fox hunting side-line with the Ceres festival and the actual murder mystery fades into the background. Which is a shame, because it's actually pretty good and should be the core of the novel.

Here's some examples of the descriptions of the men in the book: "screwed as many altar boys as he was hoping for"; "a bunch of effete contractors were mincing around" ; "a male menace barged out into the street" ; "the shifty blaggard was all hemp tunics and chin stubble. Absolutely not my type."; "my client's husbands... run away with a bar girl. A piece with an ankle-chain"; "The surly man they called Tiberius"; "men with randy propositions are bad enough" ; "being driven mad by a barely literate bonehead trying to spell "self-defence"; "The man was straight, but indisputably a halfwit." ; "a typically rancid slum landlord"; " Art... can be used to thump the heads of any crass men who molest you." ; "he was a big bellied pompous type" ; "this gave the men [the vigiles] a hangdog, shabby air, they could often be seen lolling against a siphon engine... eating snacks and chatting up loose women". I could go on with dozens more examples... this book certainly does... but you can read it for yourselves. It left me agape. Not at all what I expect of the author.

It's not all male-focused, this meiosis. Some female characters get it as well. The first corpse is described as: "Salvidia had had a heavy build, the kind of weight that arrives with the menopause", or "furious grannies hurling curses"; we get told the bath-house owner probably killed her husband because he was useless, that two female "lesbian gladiators" regularly preen themselves in the yard.

Enough. You can sense my disappointment.

That aside, the plot of the serial murders is well done and exactly what I expect of Lindsay Davis. I quite like the dour Tiberius, dislike Andronicus, got a real sense of the Aventine, bemoaned the lack of Marcus and Helena Justina in the book - yet got over it. The denouement was satisfying, the action plausible. Albia's character? Dislikeable. Which is a major problem given she's the main character. When Albia's not furiously denigrating people, she constantly musing over her own love-life, and whether to get together with Andronicus. All of which is a not very subtle author's attempt to point us away from what Andronicus really is. The effort to direct the reader to think one way about him is so over-laboured that you immediately suspect the opposite.

I also dislike all the references to Albia's deceased husband, Lentulus, as "Farm-Boy". Leave that description to "The Princess Bride". It's an iconic description no one else should be allowed to use.

So, my 2 star is a rating relative to Ms Davis' other books. It's probably a 3.5 star in the genre, but (and I hate to say this), Marcus Didius Falco would immensely disappointed in his step-daughter's attitude and first outing into the underworld of Rome. I'll read the next, and hope for some major changes.

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Lindsey Davis's Falco: The New Generation series

The Ides of April

Falco: The New Generation #1

Enemies at Home

Falco: The New Generation #2

Deadly Election

Falco: The New Generation #3

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