Pandora’s Boy (A Flavia Albia Novel #6), by Lindsey Davis
Sometimes a book can have a revealing title. Who is Pandora’s Boy, one might ask? In this case, he is a young man who is the grandson of a wealthy community’s local pharmacist, abortionist, and poisoner. He happens to be the romantic crush of a young woman who tags around with some older and catty young people who are viewed as a cool crowd but drink a lot, engage in casual fornication, and are generally not very good people. He also happens to be a scion of a house of criminals who is being raised to be the advocate for the crime family to take over from the existing attorney. All of these elements play their role in this story and how it develops, and the author does a good job at not only putting her protagonist in place to solve a mystery but also to provide social commentary on issues that were present in Roman society as well as our own in young people with too much money and not enough sense being hostile to culture and community and ultimately putting themselves in deeply dangerous situations that they are not mature enough to handle.
The plot of this story begins straightforwardly enough. After Manlius’ ex-wife urges Flavia to take on a case involving a dead fifteen year old from a privileged family in the Quirinal Hill region, she seems reluctant to take on the case until her husband suddenly vanishes to do some private investigating and she takes the case to keep herself from being depressed at Manlius’ absence. And, of course, what seems like a simple enough case of sudden death becomes a far more deeply interesting and troublesome case as Pandora and her criminal in-laws seek to keep Flavia from doing her job and what appears to be an accidental death takes on questions of love potions and a young man prematurely leaving the army. We get to see Flavia and her husband working out how to deal with cases and take advantage of Manlius being an Aedile who happens to like to investigate crimes and we also manage to end with a sense of foreboding about the sort of gangland violence that is about to erupt in Rome as a result of perceived weakness on a part of the dominant gang, as well as with a discussion where Flavia lays down what has been going on, including a case of accidental incest.
In reading a book like this I cannot help but think of this book being a situation where the author is seeking to comment on the present day through a knowledge of the past. In some ways selfish elites never change. Cool kids are less than picky about the morality of their friends, and think that they are too cool to deal with uncool tryhards or to respect the property rights of others or even respect the bounds of marriage. All too often parents are either dictatorial or too lax in their parenting or have set such a bad example themselves that they have no moral credibility to rein in their troublesome offspring. The end of the novel presents the wealthy set of young people being broken up by the pressures of the adult world, including the danger of one’s family businesses, the consequences of one’s lack of morality, and the desire on the part of some to seek a moral reformation through agricultural labor in the old-fashioned manner of previous generations of Roman farmers. All of this suggests that the corrupt world of young people who are footloose and fancy free is a temporary phenomenon and one that is dangerous to the well-being of themselves as well as those around them.