I have not had much experience in reviewing fiction, but I am trying to get more comfortable with it. So, here is my humble attempt at providing my views on SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead by John Maddox Roberts.
For those who are unfamiliar with the SPQR mystery series, the books revolve around Decius Caecilius Metellus, a man from a patrician family making his way up the political hierarchy in the late days of the Roman Republic. Each book is more or less based about how Decius solves murders while in his current political position.
The latest book finds Decius in southern Italy serving as the magistrate for cases involving foreigners. He is happy to be away from Rome as Caesar and Pompey are on the verge of facing off against each other. Anyway, while Decius is visiting the Oracle of the Dead, a pre-Roman cult site located at the end of a tunnel beneath a temple to Apollo, the dead body of the high priest of the temple appears at his feet. Decius finds himself investigating another crime and quickly learns that there is a bitter rivalry between the priests of Apollo and those of Hecate, guardians of the Oracle (this rivalry spills over between the inhabitants of the area as well).
Roberts tells a believable story. The plot is not far-fetched and Decius’ thinking in solving the mystery is rational without any wild leaps of logic – it is not easy for the reader to solve the murder before Decius does. In addition, the characters are complex and not easily figured out.
Roberts seems to describe Roman life at that time (I say seems because I don’t know too much about the social mores of this time period, but in any case his descriptions make for a good story). For instance, Decius goes to a party hosted by a local woman who is quite wealthy. Roberts recounts the various sights and practices of parties of this time period (how guests left in order of their social importance – the most important left first and so on down the social ladder).
Roberts also captures the political mood of the time period. For example, the characters are concerned about the events occurring in Rome between Caesar’s supporters and Pompey (whether Caesar will come into Rome with his army and how Pompey would react).
This book is well worth a read.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.