I just finished the latest book in John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR series that chronicles the adventures of Roman Senator Decius Caecilius Metellus during the last days of the Roman Republic. Roberts’ latest novel is entitled SPQR XIII: The Year of Confusion: A Mystery (The SPQR Roman Mysteries).
Here is a brief description of the book’s plot from its publisher:
Caius Julius Caesar, now Dictator of Rome, has decided to revise the Roman calendar, which has become out of sync with the seasons. As if this weren’t already an unpopular move, Caesar has brought in astronomers and astrologers from abroad, including Egyptians, Greeks, Indians and Persians. Decius is appointed to oversee this project, which he knows rankles the Roman public: “To be told by a pack of Chaldeans and Egyptians how to conduct their duties towards the gods was intolerable.” Not long after the new calendar project begins, two of the foreigners are murdered. Decius begins his investigations and, as the body count increases, it seems that an Indian fortuneteller popular with patrician Roman ladies is also involved.
As with the other books in this series, Roberts does a masterful job of developing the plot and characters of this latest mystery. You find out clues and facts as Decius finds out – I like this style because it keeps you guessing (whereas some books cover events that the main character does not know about until later in the book).
Roberts continues to flesh out the relationship between Decius and Caesar. Decius was never really comfortable with Caesar as Caesar rose in power. In this book, Decius is even more wary of Caesar because Caesar continues to grab more power and make more questionable decisions. Roberts describes this uneasy relationship wonderfully.
Roberts has the ability to bring the era to life in his books. For example, he describes the sights and sounds of ancient Rome – what the Roman baths were like and how they were used by the Romans. His descriptions bring a good visual picture in your mind. In the scope of Decius’ investigation, Roberts also touches on the mundane things of life like how people travelled from one part of the city to another – the wealthy preferred to be carried in litters while the commoners walked.
As with his other books, this latest book by Roberts will keep you guessing who the culprits are until the very end.