I just finished John Maddox Roberts’ latest mystery in the SPQR series, SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius. The book continues the excellence of the previous mysteries. It is 211 pages, including a 12-page glossary of terms (this is an excellent resource for anyone who is not knowledgeable on Roman terminology â€“ such as the role of a Roman consul).
Here is a brief description of the book from its inside cover:
Things are going well for Decius Caecilius Metellus. He is Praetor Peregrinus, which means he has to judge a case or two, but those cases are outside of the City. His cases will be those dealing with foreigners, and all of Italy is his province. His first stop is Campania, ‘Italy’s most popular resort district.’ Decius and his wife, Julia, are happy for a change of scenery. But the good times end when, in a town near Vesuvius, a priest’s daughter is murdered. Decius must find her killer and keep the mob off a young boy who everyone blames but he believes to be innocent. Decius may have acquired more prestige, but he’s also acquired more trouble.
As Decius has moved up to one of the highest offices of Rome, he is forced to change is modus operandi for investigating crimes. In the previous mysteries, he would do most of the investigating himself. However, because of Julia and the status that comes with being a praetor, Decius is forced to depend on others (especially his freedman Hermes) when the bodies start dropping. This shift is interesting seeing it play out in the book because many times Decius wants to do the investigating himself, but hesitantly stops himself.
Roberts does his usual excellent job of character development and plot development. Although the characters surrounding the murders are not Roman nobility, in many instances they are much more interesting. The mercantile class that Decius deals with in this mystery is in some ways more interesting and scandalous than the patricians in Rome.
This mystery does not have the same level of action as the previous mysteries, although there is an interesting fight between Decius and his supporters against some outlaws. Due to his status, Decius gets himself in fewer altercations. Overall though, the action is far tamer than the previous books â€“ I hope this is not the beginning of a trend because one of Roberts’ strengths in these novels is his descriptions of action.
I would add this book to your reading list.