Tour’s Books Blog

December 13, 2009

Book Review: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead by John Maddox Roberts

  • Title: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead
  • Author:John Maddox Roberts
  • Type: Roman Mystery
  • Genre: Decius Caecilius Metellus series; wise cracking sleuth
  • Sub-genre: Roman politics and murder as Cesar rises to power
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel, about 90,000 words, for $10.11 on sale, $14.99 cover price
  • Where Available: Anywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookseller

I’m always anxiously awaiting the latest installment in the excellent SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts.  I’ve been a fan since he first started it back in the early ’90’s.  It’s taken all the way to book twelve for me to be disappointed.  In Oracle for the Dead Decius Caecilius Metellus and his wife Julia, Cesar’s niece, are lingering in Campania region where we left them in Under Vesuvius.  Post dinner conversation with the local politicians turns to local temples the Oracle of the Dead that’s nearby.  Julia wants to visit, so off they go.  They come upon a temple of Apollo first as it shares the sacred grounds with the oracle.  Though Apollo is Greek god long established in the region, it is the seen aspect of Apollo as the avenger that is worshiped here.  Behind and beneath Apollo’s temple is the Oracle dedicated to the Greek goddess Hecate, usually associated with ghosts.  First they visit the white robed priests of Apollo and next they go with the black robed priestess of Hecate.  After drinking wine likely spiked with herbs, the party begins the decent into a cave supposedly on the banks of the river Styx.  Wading into the water as directed by the high priestess, Decius asks about Cesar and the Senate.  Insistent, he steps further and something grabs is ankles.  It’s the body of Eugaeon, the high priest of Apollo. (more…)

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May 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Alexandria by Lindsey Davis

Alexandria is the 19th outing for the intrepid Marcus Didius Falco. Davis writes in the first person and Falco is our amiable and sardonic guide. The wryly witty Falco has grown assured and comfortable with himself over the years. He’s married now and the father of 2 girls with a third child on the way. His wife, Helena Justina, is the daughter of a Roman senator and he greatly respects her and her intelligence. The story of his private life with Helena – she was married when they first met and loathed each other on sight – tells so much of Roman life. I highly recommend reading all the books – just the story of Falco and Helena will make it worth your while. Now, as his personal life has become that of a settled man, a father and a husband, the mysteries have also changed. The last few have seen him and his little family traveling outside Rome to places like Delphi in Greece.

As the book opens, Falco, his little family and his restless brother-in-law Aulus are arriving in Alexandria, still the most valued center of learning in the ancient world. They intend to do some sightseeing and try and get Aulus accepted into the Museion. Rumor says Falco is also here on Vespasian’s errand, (before anyone goes running to check, the year is 77AD, about 100 years after the death of Julius Caesar) and more than one person is worried by his presence. Falco’s very real vacation plans get sidetracked when the Head Librarian of the Great Library, Theon, a dinner guest at his uncle’s house the previous night, is found dead at his desk in a locked office. (more…)

April 19, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius by John Maddox Roberts

John Maddox Roberts writes mysteries featuring Decius Caecilius Metellus that have followed his career serving Rome in various capacities over the years.  The books follow him from his mandatory military duty, where he and Giaus Julius Ceaser get to know each other, back to Rome where he slowly works his way up the ranks of various elected offices.  SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus designating the era of Roman history in which the story takes place) XI Under Vesuvius is the eleventh book in the series.  Decius has won the prestigious one year term as preator pereginus, the second highest office in the Imperium along with preator urbanus.  The preator unbanus is required by law to stay in Rome for his term of office.  Luckily, as preator pereginus, magistrate for cases involving non-citizen, Decius is free to travel and leave the stifling heat of the Roman summer.

Since he is kind of a wandering magistrate, Decius takes full advantage of the offer of the use of a villa owned by the famous orator Quintus Hortensius Hortalus in Campania.  The sprawling estate sits just outside the city of Baiae on the Bay of Naples.  Feted all along his route south, he sardonically assumes it is really his wife Julia’s favor they wish to curry.   Julia is Ceaser’s niece and helps – or meddles, depending on your perspective – in Decius’ ‘cases.’  The Metellus family has a long history of service to the Imperium, but they aren’t as important as the Ceaser’s family.   Ceaser is not yet dictator, but he has much of the country nervous and the wise citizens want to take the measure of the great man’s niece.

Finally the entourage makes it to the spectacular villa.  A tour of the grounds leads them to a Temple of Apollo and the daughter of hereditary Greek priest, Gorgo.  A handsome young man, Gelon, mounted on a caparisoned horse arrives with his guards.  The animosity toward him seems all out of proportion even though he is obviously a Numidian (North African, usually Berber).  Gelon is the son of Geato, a shrewd and highly successful slave trader that specialized in skilled workers for household, business or trades.  Though all upper class citizens owned slaves, they looked down on traders on principle, foreign traders even more.  The trade was legal and the fact they all purchased their household and business slaves from him made no difference.  Diocles, the Greek priest at Apollo’s Temple obviously loathed him and wanted him nowhere near his daughter. (more…)

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