Saturday, 10 February 2001
Lindsay Davis: One Virgin Too Many (1999)
Review number: 750
By the first century AD, many of the traditional observances of Roman religion must have seemed silly and irrelevant. They were appropriate to the small farming village hundreds of years in the past, so they are about things like making crops grow, not the concerns of the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world. Nevertheless, this feeling would have been accompanied by a certain reverence, for the cult practices were relics of a time seen as simple and virtuous. At the very least, an assumed reverence would have been politic in public. The cults were also an established path to political honours: Julius Caesar himself held the post of Pontifex Maximus.
In One Virgin Too Many, Davies' detective Falco becomes involved in several aspects of this, as one of the candidates for the lottery for a new Vestal Virgin comes to see him and tells him that one of her family has threatened to kill her, and a member of a corn cult, an Arval Brother, is killed at one of their ceremonies as though he were an animal sacrifice. These provide the crime side of the novel, and much of the humour comes from Falco's appointment to the fairly ridiculous office of the Procurator of the Sacred Poultry, responsible for the welfare of official birds including the sacred geese on the Capitol hill (descendants of geese who warned the city of an attack in the past).
This is one of the most amusing novels in the series, but it still has a fairly complex investigation; extremely satisfying.