Sunday, February 18, 2007

DUST JACKETS: SPQR: The King's Gambit

One of the more unique mystery series to come along belongs to John Maddox Roberts. The “SPQR” series is set in ancient Rome and offers us a detective in the form of Roman official Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger. While he doesn’t have the slick resources of modern-day detectives, the book still contains a certain procedural feel that makes it easy to explore this long lost world.

Decius handles one of the more violent sections of Rome, and yet when a foreign merchance and an ex-slave are murdered in his district, he feels compelled to snoop. His search for answers makes him several enemies within the very government he serves and the more he investigates, the more clear it becomes that what he has discovered is far more than a murder but a conspiracy that threatens the empire.

From a mystery standpoint, I’m not sure this book was anything all that amazing. I think many of us have come to expect certain things of mystery novels, and Roberts delivers this. What he does to make this book stand out just a little more is take advantage of his setting. He really does a nice job of bringing Rome to life, and as anyone who’s seen the new HBO series “Rome” will appreciate, Roberts doesn’t scrimp on the sex either. Roberts goes so far as to treat readers to a threesome that includes an adrogynous-looking, contortionist-slave.

Perhaps the weakest thing about this book is the ending. I don’t think I’m really giving anything away by saying Decius solves the case, but the way the truth is learned and what happens because of it just kind of disappointed me. I didn’t exactly feel like much of anything really got resolved.

Roberts has managed to turn this into a rather decent series. Despite my disappointment with the end to the first book, I enjoyed his storytelling and use of setting enough to obtain a copy of the second book (to be fair, I think my wife bought it, but I wanted it, too). The first book also earned Roberts an Edgar Award nomination.

Other Books by John Maddox Roberts:

Of late, my wife has become quite addicted to watching the aforementioned tv series “Rome.” I can’t help but wonder if Roberts’ publisher will take advantage of the tv show’s following to increase the readership for these books.

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