SPQR Xlll: The Year of Confusion

Written by John Maddox Roberts
Review by James Hawking

The year of confusion in the subtitle refers to the year that Caesar introduced his new calendar, and the dictator has assigned our recurring protagonist Decius Caecilius Metellus (back for the thirteenth time) to deal with the innumerable legal and religious problems which the change has created.

When an astronomer involved with the project is murdered by a mysterious method, Decius begins to seek the malefactor. His investigations lead him through the feminine side of late republican Roman politics with Cleopatra and Servilia among the historical characters involved. A group of senators seems to be forming around Brutus and Cassius, but it is not clear what, if anything, they are plotting. One of the most amusing characters is the poet Cinna, later the victim of a case of mistaken identity immortalized by Shakespeare. Decius regards the growth of Caesar’s power as a problem, but he sees the senate opposition as even more oppressive.

In the Author’s Note, Roberts confesses that he has “for dramatic purposes compressed two years into one,” meaning essentially that he has used the events of 45 B.C.E. even though the year of the change was actually 46 B.C.E. Since all of his best characters were not in Rome that year, Roberts needed this compression to tell his story. Notwithstanding this use of poetic license, the novel is recommended.