I, CLAUDIA by Marilyn Todd

28 11 2010

What a title! As soon as I saw it I knew I had to read it, and as soon as I started reading it I was hooked. These are the opening lines:

Even for July, the streets seemed hotter and busier than ever as Claudia pushed her way across the Forum, grateful that she didn’t have to walk very often […] Turning into the Via Sacra, she collided with a small boy in porridge-stained rags, his filthy hands clutching a pig’s head which he’d undoubtedly stolen.

‘Out of my way, you poxy little oik.’

Claudia elbowed him aside, and thought she caught the words ‘Up yours, missus,’ but when she spun round he’d disappeared into the crush of lawyers, vendors, fortrune-tellers and dancers …

Claudia is not your typical investigator. She is in fact an ex-street-kid, ex-exotic-dancer, ex-prostitute from the provinces (not so “ex” actually, she is still practising her trade part-time in Rome, along with cracking the whip as a dominatrix for a series of masochistic senators), who, by playing on her charms – she seems to be virtually irresistible – has conned her way into the position of wife – yes, wife, not mistress – of one of the richest men in Rome. In order to do so, she adopted the name and status of a young patrician woman who, she knew, had died of the plague.

Now, though, in this, the first book in the series, her “punters” are being murdered one by one in a particularly gruesome and distinctive manner. Not only that, but she owes a lot of money in gambling debts which she can neither tell her strait-laced husband about nor raise enough money to pay off, a man who knew her in the past turns up on her doorstep, and to cap it all, members of her husband’s family are being killed off in “accidents” which she finds herself accused of arranging so as to leave herself his sole heir. And then there is the official investigator, Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, a handsome Roman of the senatorial class who has somehow managed to find out all about her, but then predictably proceeds to fall in love with her. (I told you she is irresistible.)

She is going to have to find out for herself who was responsible for these two series of murders, and find out fast, simply to save her own skin. And, as it turns out, the skin of the normally very capable Orbilio, whom she and his odious boss have between them rendered almost completely incapable. But will she be able to? Or has she become too soft, too spoilt? Here she is with her little Egyptian cat, Drusilla, which has been with her since the old days:

A sparrow landed in the courtyard and Drusilla hunkered down, alert and ready to pounce. Claudia threw the bird a piece of bread, which it snatched up and flew off with. The cat stretched and began washing again, too full, too satisfied to think seriously about hunting. The edge had gone. And suddenly Claudia wondered whether her edge had been blunted, too. Without doubt, the hunt was exciting, but what would happen when it came to the kill?

‘Come, Drusilla, we’ve guests arriving shortly.’

Was she too full, too satisfied to carry it through when it came to the crumch?

The sparrow landed a second time, twisting its head on one side as it hopped closer for more bread. Cheeky little beggar. She smiled at its comical gait and its beady eye and broke off another crust. Suddenly there was a blur of cream and brown. Feathers fluttered in the air. Drops of red splashed over the tiles. And Claudia Seferius had her answer.

I love it, but I have to say that it is not particularly Roman – even less so than Lindsey Davies’ Falco series. In fact it is all very English and could as well be set in London at any time during the last five hundred years. The gutter-snipe (the “oik” in the quotation above) sounds cockney, as do several of the characters, including Claudia herself half the time – like Liza Doolittle she has learnt to speak posh when necessary. The Senators, especially Claudia’s “punters”, are ex-public school Conservative-party politicians. The businessmen are sharp members of the lower orders clawing and paying their way up through the ranks to patrician class, if not in their own generation then for their offspring. And the Princeps himself, the Emperor Augustus, who is now preaching morality and family values (which is why Claudia’s position is so invidious – even betting on the Games has been forbidden, let alone her other activities!)  wormed his way into the imperial succession by being, in his youth (according to Marilyn Todd, and I believe her) Julius Caesar’s catamite.

So, there you have it: a bright, beautiful and very funny girl surviving as best she knows how in an appalling environment. I am spending my free time enjoying the rest of the series now – will report back later!




3 responses

31 01 2012
TUTANKHAMUN by Nick Drake « Kanti Burns, Book Reviews and more

[…] comparisons with all the private dicks, male and female (I like Claudia – of I, Claudia (also reviewed on this site!) quite as much as I like Falco) who prowl the mean streets of Rome. Rahotep’s mean streets […]

30 01 2016

Reblogged this on M. B. Gilbride.

5 02 2016
Yo, CLAUDIA por Marilyn Todd | xabiarmando

[…] Fuente: I, CLAUDIA por Marilyn Todd […]

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