Pandora's Boy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

Love the way Davis has moved one of my favorite series characters, Falco, gently to the side of the page and propped him up with an equally interesting character who can believably perform the physically challenging actions a mystery plot demands. The story continues in a most satisfying manner.
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Another great book in the Flavia Albia series, it has a great mystery and I loved that it was set in Rome. Flavia's still interesting and overall I had a great time reading this and look forward to more in Flavia Albia's series.
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I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

Having recently completed book 5 in Lindsey Davis’ historical mystery series set in ancient Rome, The Third Nero, I was thrilled to have the chance to review book 6, the newly released Pandora’s Boy.

With this latest installment, the series has recaptured its momentum and I enthusiastically recommend it. However, the series should be read from book one, The Ides of April. (For ultimate enjoyment, start with Silver Pigs, the first book in the preceding Marcus Didius Falco series – but that’s not crucial for this series featuring Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia.)

When we left Albia and her new husband, plebian aedile Manlius Tiberius, the outlook for his recovery from the wedding-day lightning strike was looking promising, but he was not yet out of the woods. Things take a turn when his ex-wife, the unpleasant Laia Gratiana appears with a job for Albia. A friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter has been found dead in her bed, possibly poisoned, possibly the victim of a love potion.

Albia turns down the job. She wants nothing to do with any friend of Tiberius’ ex. But the moment her back is turned, Tiberius disappears. No explanation. He’s even taken off his wedding ring. Albia, whose job it often is to find missing husbands, is unable to find her own. The frightening suspicion of her loved ones is that he is suffering from a post-lightning strike fugue state. Desolate, Albia decides to bury herself in her work. She takes the case.

Small, tragic domestic troubles never remain small and domestic. The more Albia digs, the more she uncovers, most of it only peripherally related to the question at hand: how did the girl die? There are criminal gangs active in Rome. Albia (and her adopted father Falco) have come across these dangerous characters before and do their best to avoid them. But Albia’s investigations keep crossing into their territory and she’s going to have to deal with some gangsters before she solves the mystery.

This novel demonstrates Davis’ talent for conflating ancient Rome with modern day tropes: hippies/earth mothers, foodies, bratty overindulged teenagers, and organized crime. The results are vastly entertaining even if a bit farcical for a historical novel. Also, (spoiler alert) Tiberius does reappear. The relationship between Albia and Tiberius is sweet, loving, and amusing. They complement one another’s working styles. And Tiberius has an admirable ability to stand back and let Albia do her work. 

For fans of tongue-in-cheek historical mysteries, Lindsey Davis’ novels are pure fun.
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Once again Albia has to carefully sift through what people will admit to her and try and discover what they won’t. Most of the characters in this story are homegrown except for one interesting Egyptian fertility God who sidelines in helping to sell lettuce. There are characters I loved such as the joyful Iocundus and ones I could drop kick into the arena right as the lions are waking up and looking for a morning snack. Answers are found but those who yield them will have to eventually make peace with themselves over the part they played in the tragedy. But at least Albia does find her man and end up with a some great new servants (yay!) and a dog (still getting used to that). B
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The story in Pandora's Boy is very typical of Davis' latest works. It is competent, witty and enjoyable but unfortunately predictable. As before, we have a large amount of characters each of which seem to divulge only a small bit of information at any given time. The reveal at the end has a twist, but usually one that can have been seen a mile away. To be honest, as a murder mystery it's not much to speak off.

To summarize the plot: Flavia is called upon solve the death of a young teenage girl by her husband's ex-wife - and there is scandal in the air as a love potion is rumored to be the cause. Love potions are the realm of witches and witchcraft is illegal. The cast involves the extended family of the deceased as well as her young friend who could easily be mistaken for teens of today.

Where the true enjoyment of these books still comes from is the witty dialogue and that is still very much on par. I also love the main characters Flavia Albia and her husband - both are finally operating as a pair in the fine art of mystery solving. Their interactions alone are worth a couple of stars.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
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If you have loved Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco books, you will love the stories of his adopted daughter Flavia Albia.  If you are not acquainted with Falco you have a tremendous treat awaiting you, and what better way to start than with this book.

The newly-married Flavia Albia is inveigled by the ex-wife of her husband to take the case of a fifteen-year-old girl from a good family who died suddenly.  Albia does not want to take the case as she wants nothing to do with the ex-wife, but with Tiberius (the husband) acting oddly after having been struck by lightning, she ends up taking it.  I don’t like spoilers, so I am not going to give any, but suffice it to say that things are more complicated than they seem at the beginning, although everything is satisfactorily explained in the end.

As always, Davis is masterful in her depiction of Rome and its people.  The reader feels immersed in the Eternal City and can follow Flavia Albia as she makes her way around.  

“Pandora’s Boy” is a worthy successor to the previous Flavia Albia novels, just as Albia herself is a worthy successor to her father.  I heartily recommend this book, and if you are new to the series I can happily recommend that you rectify that as soon as possible.
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July 1, 2018 
What to Read in a Power Outage: Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis

Thunderstorms make me jittery.  In recent years, there have been epic floods and power outages. During last night’s storm, it was positively Deucalion and Pyrrha out there.

Shrieking with terror and blinded by sheet lightning, I retired to bed to read under the covers.  I was in the middle of an excellent novel, “L.A. Woman” by Eve Babitz (much like her book “Eve’s Hollywood”), when the power went out.  There we were, sitting in the dark.  And can you read a book with a flashlight or lantern?  I cannot.
And so I turned to e-books.  Mind you, there was a snag.  I used the tablet, because the e-reader needed to be charged.  And it seems that the e-books had not “downloaded” on the tablet unless I had clicked on them before the storm.

Finally I “opened” Lindsey Davis’s witty new historical mystery, “Pandora’s Boy”, the sixth in a series about a wisecracking female P.I. in ancient Rome.  Like Steven Saylor and David Wishart, who also write mystery series set in Rome, Davis writes pitch-perfect dialogue and her comic timing is impeccable.  She also gets the historical details right:  she was even honorary president of the Classical Association in the UK from 1997 to 1998.

The narrator, Flavia Albia, is the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco (the hero of Davis’s other mystery series), born in Britain, and an “informer” (a P.I.) in Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian.  In “Pandora’s Boy,” she investigates the death of Clodia Volumnia, a 15-year-old girl who socialized with a set of wild, mostly well-to-do party-goers. Apparently Clodia was poisoned by a love potion, bought by her mother from Pandora, who is ostensibly a  seller of upscale cosmetics but has  a reputation for witchcraft.  Or at least that is Clodia’s father’s theory.  The mother denies it and moves out.

The dialogue is witty and the book is great fun.  Albia interviews a diverse cast of characters, including a Stoic family with a hippie lifestyle.   I especially enjoyed Albia’s first interview with Pandora, who, of course, denies that she is a witch–witchcraft is illegal.  Born in Britain, Alba tells Pandora that she herself is a Druid (also illegal in Rome), and spins an unlikely yarn about her divination spoons.

Albia’s wit and talent for improv during the investigation are very amusing.  I love the Druid bits, especially when Albia asks Pandora if she has a skull to sell.  After blabbing the question, she realizes she has gone too far.  Albia muses, 

"Now I was stuck. This kind of situation was well known in my family. There was no need of a blood relationship to inherit crazy behavior. Falco was always coming up with mad schemes that led to near-disaster; now so was I.

"It seemed unlikely Pandora would keep skeletons here in her expensive bower, though there were several painted cupboards with pedestal tops, little tombs that would normally be used for vases people had never liked.
'I don’t have a skull about me at present.'  Relief! Perhaps Pandora feared that to harbor human bones was unwise in a city where soldiers could bang on your door at any moment, bent on a search after a poisonous tip-off. 'What do you want it for, ducky?'

'Oh, classic necromancy,' I breezed, recovering my composure. 'I thought I might impress you by conducting a spirit into it. My skills are not perfect, but I can conjure a soul from the Underworld to answer questions. Be warned, though. Because I was torn from my forebears too young, I never learned the right incantation to dismiss the spirit. It’s awful if the wrong one swans into your vessel, and you are stuck with a ghastly hanger-on who won’t go home to Hades.'

Funny?  Yes!  And Albia may be the only female P.I. character in ancient Rome,  This is not Davis’s most tightly-plotted book, but it is irresistible light reading.  And it was a distraction from the flash flooding here.
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I thought this book was the first in the series. Once again, I need to learn to do my research before reading books. This is actually number six in the series. Though with reading between the lines you get enough of the back story that it did not matter that this was number six and not number one. I had no problems picking it up and reading without knowing what books one through five were about.

The was a very clever story line with a wonderful plot and characters. Though I do admit that I do not know much about Roman history during this time but I feel a woman private informer is a bit of a reach but I could be wrong. I enjoyed the boldness of Flavia Albia and how she did not let anything stop her from solving the mystery. Though I do think her husband is a bit of a loose minded person. Again this is my opinion of this book if I had known more of the back story I may understand why her husband acts the way he acts. 

This basically is a story of a teenager's group out gone bad. Flavia Albia has to sort though the teenager's stories and their standing up for their friends stories. To which she does solve the case and no I will not tell you the end of the story here. The book is worth the read and I do suggest you read it, but like always with any series, I suggest reading them in order.
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When Flavia Albia is confronted by her husband's ex-wife with a puzzle waiting to be solved, she is inclined to refuse. Then her husband goes missing and she needs to be kept occupied. How did a fifteen year old girl die in her bed. 
I love reading these mysteries by Lindsey Davis. Is anything ever straightforward. The books are so well-written, the mysteries intriguing, and the characters so well-rounded.
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Will Someone Please Tell Me the Truth

The novel opens with Flavia Albia about a month into her wedded bliss with her husband, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, a plebeian aedile. Out of the blue, Laia Gratiana, Tiberius’s first wife, who he divorced ten years earlier and with whom Flavia has a down right frigid relationship, arrives with a commission for Flavia. The 15 year old daughter of Laia’s friend had died. There were rumors that she had been poisoned. Laia wants Flavia to investigate. Tiberius thinks the case is interesting, and they could use the money. Flavia was not going to work for Laia. Flavia finally leaves them alone. Later, she cannot find her husband, and he left without even leaving a note. When Tiberius does not return, Flavia fumes and decides to take the case to get her mind of her absent husband.

Ah, the case—a pristine body, died of a broken heart or poisoned by a love potion, witchcraft? The parents have differing opinions; the grandmothers had come to blows. The possibility of unrequited love leads to a group of friends of the older brother who are more mature and into more mature behavior. Throw in a witch, her grandson studying to be a lawyer and a notorious crime family, stir, and outcomes an intriguing mystery. The one thing that appears certain is that Falvia is being told only part of the truth at best.

Obviously, the disappearance of Flavia’s new husband and what happens gives much interesting insight into their relationship. Falco has a speaking part in this novel so the current status of Falvia’s family is provided. The background and current status of Laia and her relationship with Tiberius adds richness to this novel. All of this is woven seamlessly into the main storyline and enriched my enjoyment in reading.

What I liked the most was the ending where Flavia gathers together in one place all the people involved in the case, throws in some surprise witnesses, and solves the mystery. I enjoyed the use of this old technique from before fingerprints, DNA and other forensics made this ending no longer workable.

As in the Falco and this series, there were only a few instances of vulgar language. There were no graphic sex scenes. One well-endowed Egyptian god does play a significant role in the novel. My usual caveat with Lindsey Davis novels is especially true with this one. I recommend reading this novel with a kindle. The reason is the author uses much obsolete British terms to give an air of being long ago. This is normal and most of the words were in the kindle dictionary. What made the kindle more valuable was the section on a feast at the thermopolium, Fabulo’s. For most of the dishes served I hadn’t a clue what they were. Highlighting the word and requesting a Google search made this section much more understandable.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this novel. My imagination was captured quickly and kept it through the whole story. You should be able to enjoy Pandora’s Boy even if you hadn’t read any of this series or Falco series before. I rate this novel with five stars. 

I have received a free kindle version of this novel through NetGalley from St. Martin’s Press with a request for an honest, unbiased review. I wish to thanks St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this novel early.
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Another Great historical mystery from the master writer Lindsey Davis! The story is set in the time period of first century Rome, while it helps to have read the previous books in the series but it's not absolutely necessary.
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Ancient Rome's Flavia Alba, the appealing British-born heroine of this spinoff series, is the adopted daughter of Davis's 1st century investigator Marcus Didius Falco. Over several books she has established her own detecting business successfully and, after a lonely time as a young widow, has married again happily. Her latest case takes both Alba and her husband into the intimate lives of spoiled offspring from wealthy Roman families after a teenage girl dies under circumstances that may have involved witchcraft and definitely involve a powerful  crime organization. Although many Davis readers will miss Falco's amusing voice, the Alba tales provide solid light entertainment and this book includes several twists hinting at interesting developments for future plots.
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Flavia Albia is hesitant to take a case recommended by her new husband's ex-wife, but the death of fifteen-year-old Clodia is too intriguing to pass up. Along the way, her husband Tiberius goes undercover himself as the assistant of a lettuce shop whose products are renowned for their powers of fertility. Soon, Flavia's investigation introduces her to a vapid and immoral socialite set, members of the underworld gang known as the Rabirii, and a well-connected potion seller named Pandora whose name is on everyone's lips. To solve the case, Flavia must confront the lies spun by immature children and the lies parents themselves are willing to tell to cover for their offspring's mistakes.

This book was a slow starter for me. Flavia has never quite sparkled as a narrator as much as her father Marcus Didius Falco did in Lindsey Davis' previous series. I had trouble following the action at first, although my interest was piqued at about a third of the way into the book. I wish more time had been spent on Tiberius and Flavia's relationship as they settle into newly married life as only an aedile and an informer can. The story seemed to be an important setup, however, for a reintroduction of the Rabirius gang which played a part in Flavia's earlier days, and as such, this novel is an important link in the chain of events that are surely to come.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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