Flavia Albia Book 11
July 18th, 2023
Fatal Legacy by Lindsey Davis is the 11th book in the Flavia Albia series. It takes place during the First Century in Rome.
The plot has Flavia Albia, the daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, taking over her father’s business as a private informer. She only has two hard and fast rules – avoid political and family cases because nothing good comes of either of them. Unfortunately, since Albia isn’t good at avoiding either, it’s really more of a guideline. So, when her Aunt Junia demands Albia track down a couple of deadbeats who owe her money, it’s an offer Albia can’t refuse.
It turns out to be a relatively easy job, requiring only some half-hearted blackmail, and it leads to some new work – tracking down some essential paperwork for the debtor family. But nothing is truly easy in Rome – if Albia doesn’t find the paperwork that proves that family’s ancestor was a properly freed slave, the family could lose everything. The more she digs, the more skeletons she finds in their closet, until murder in the past leads to murder in the present. Now, it’s serious, even deadly, and Albia has precious little time to uncover the
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the series?
Lindsey Davis: After writing twenty books in my much-loved Falco Roman detective series, I fought to be allowed a new direction. ‘Master and God’ examined the reign of the paranoid emperor Domitian, which I then used as a new, darker background to extend my Roman detective idea – only this time using a female protagonist. After twenty years, I felt that readers were more familiar with Rome than when I started, so I could now face them with a woman’s life in the Golden City. I thought this would be a refreshing nuance, good for me as a writer too.
EC: How did you get the idea for the character Flavia Albia?
LD: She was originally seen in a Falco story that was set in Roman Britain; I made her a tragic survivor of the Boudiccan Rebellion. Falco and his wife rescued her and brought her to Rome, adopting her as a daughter. Then I realized that I had created an interesting, very feisty character. In the Falco series I had great fun showing her as a troubled adolescent, but very perceptive about the new society she has joined.
EC: How did you get the idea for this story?
LD: It starts with a small everyday event, when two people fail to pay their bill for lunch. Albia is called in to chase them down and retrieve the money – so first, I had to work out how she might do that as a debt collector. She is hired to find some family documents. Slowly, lives are explored, leading into an extraordinarily complex family saga, covering several generations, and every kind of trouble that might afflict warring relatives. It’s a kind of mad soap opera plot, where eventually everything is found to lock together. Behind the events we laugh at, however, is a poignant discussion of ancient slavery: how it worked in a domestic situation, the vital importance of acquiring freedom, then the terrible consequences if someone who believed they were free could not prove it, or were they mistaken. I knew that if Albia could not provide a happy legal solution, she would have to obtain justice for the victims.
EC: Can you please describe Flavia?
LD: she is smart, determined, cynical. And a London Street urchin, but she is also the beneficiary of a good Roman education. She gives us a new perspective from that of the true Roman. Falco: sees Rome as a woman, an outsider, and someone who must fight hard to be accepted. She has a wild courage. And although no longer a scavenger herself, she never forgets how it felt, which gives her profound sympathy for others who are suffering or under threat of losing everything. Privilege will not spoil her. She has been slow to trust her new security, but I think she’s got there.
EC: Why the Roman Empire for the setting in the 1st Century?
LD: Because my first Roman novel was about the Emperor Vespasian and his mistress, Antonia Caenis (The Course of Honor). I came to know that period, then Vespasian’s accession after the madness of the Julio-Claudians made a suitable background for Falco, also striving to impose some order on the world he lives in. There is surviving Latin literature from this period, and of course the time capsule of the Vesuvius eruption. And I use archaeology as my starting point; there has been lots of good information discovered during my lifetime. That is still continuing, which keeps up the interest.
EC: How did Flavia grow since the first book in the series?
LD: She found mature true love, primarily. She stabilized, and accepted domesticity, where she takes responsibility for others and ruefully sees herself, with Tiberius, as the sensible center of a household and a family business. It makes her even angrier about anything that threatens the peace of people’s domestic environment and their right to personal ambitions. After a bad start in life and the tragic end of her youthful first marriage, she now accepts that even she may be allowed happiness.
EC: What role did women play in the Roman Empire?
LD: Much, much more than men have always said! Never mind the small aristocracy, who were as different and peculiar then as they are now (though not always: Vespasian was heavily influenced by his grandmother, mother, and obviously Caenis). It is evident from tombstones and inscriptions that in most of Roman society, women, especially as part of a domestic couple, were equal partners in the basic family unit. They were not supposed to go to law (but could do so) yet they could hold their own property, run businesses, and their influence is greater than the old established view. I am having fun exploring how females could fight what was supposed to be a patriarchal system. Sadly, the one profession that doesn’t seem to have been open to them is my own: we know of no successful female novelists!
EC: Did you intentionally make this story not as gruesome as the last?
LD: Yes. Absolutely. ‘Desperate Undertaking’ was based on known examples of horrible events on the Roman stage; some readers loved it, but I know some felt squeamish. I’m none too keen on live deaths in theatre myself. So next, I set out to write a story where it might appear nobody had died by foul play at all; I even make a running joke about the lack of a body. Of course, in the end it turns out that this is not the case, because in a crime novel there has to be murder. In fact, there are two killings, but one was a long time ago and the other happens very quickly!
EC: Why did most characters lie in the story?
LD: Because they are bad people! Or, you could say, normal people with secrets.
EC: What about the next book?
LD: Death on the Tiber published in April 2024 UK; July 2024 USA.
The plot has a group of well-heeled tourists arrive in Rome; when they leave, one is no longer with them. The body of a drowned woman is dredged from the Tiber, clearly the victim of foul play. It is believed she came to Rome from Britain. Rome is descending into serious gang warfare. A key mobster figure has died and will have a spectacular funeral; all the city crime lords – and their indomitable women – will be jostling for power in the aftermath. As Albia reluctantly investigates, she comments on the complex organization Rome uses to defeat the criminal underworld. She herself has allies, but they may be no help when she must confront an old enemy. She then faces a hard personal decision. Will she be consumed by the need for revenge, jeopardizing her new-found happiness?