SPQR I: The King’s Gambit and SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy

Written by John Maddox Roberts
Review by Ilysa Magnus

How glorious!  Finally, the reissue of this fabulous mystery series!   American readers are well aware of how impossible it has been to find copies of these novels, but here they are, and well worth the wait.

Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, highborn and connected to the most powerful in the last century of the Roman Republic, is just starting out in public life.  As the commander of the local vigiles in the Subura district in SPQR I, Decius is determined to make a name for himself, and that he does.  In a Rome filled with violence and evil, Decius has his hands full.  He gets no help from officials; he is bribed and threatened.  Although Decius comes close to losing his life, he is determined to bring the evildoers to justice, despite the will of many in the corrupt government.

SPQR II finds Decius now a junior senator and investigator.  The Roman legions have just vanquished their foreign enemies.  Although the Roman Republic should be celebrating its glorious military triumphs, there is no peace on Rome’s streets.  There is murder.  There are rumors of worse to come.  Does a conspiracy to overthrow the government exist–within Rome’s own government?  Decius puts himself on the line to discover the sinister truth.

Decius is a joy.  Funny, insightful, self-deprecating all at the same time, Decius is also painfully aware of the shortcomings of the powerful and the corruption of power.  Yet he has aspirations to prove himself worthy of that power.   The characters – mostly historical – are delightful and superbly drawn.  The map of 70 B.C. Rome and the glossary are invaluable.  Roberts teaches us history and geography, politics and fashion, weaponry and medicine, all while we’re enjoying ourselves greatly.  Although the market is glutted by Roman mysteries, I was truly impressed by Roberts’ research and his seamless ability to convert history into mystery. These books are must reads for historical mystery fans.