Thursday, January 30, 2014

The King's Gambit by John Maddox Roberts

Decius Cecilius Metellus, the protagonist of the SPQR Series, is described as "a would-be playboy son of an illustrious family".  SPQR stands for The Roman Republic, or more precisely, the Senate and People of Rome.  The King's Gambit is the first book in the series.

From the book's description:
John Maddox Roberts takes readers back to a Rome filled with violence and evil. Vicious gangs ruled the streets of Crassus and Pompey, routinely preying on plebeian and patrician alike, so the garroting of a lowly ex-slaved and the disembowelment of a foreign merchant in the dangerous Subura district seemed of little consequence to the Roman hierarchy. But Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger--highborn commander of the local vigiles--was determined to investigate. Despite official apathy, brazen bribes, and sinister threates, Decius uncovers a world of corruption at the highest levels of his government that threatens to destroy him and the government he serves.

I've read the first book in the series, but had to go slow to take in all the Roman terms and concepts, not to mention the political institutions.  The author explains all you need to know, and even includes a Glossary and maps, but the names and concepts take some getting used to, if it is all new to you. 

Decius is a born investigator who works his way up the Roman civil-service during the last years of the Roman Republic.  The writing is not pompous or pretentious.  It is spare and direct.  The author wears his erudition lightly.

The first book, The King's Gambit, describes Decius's first big investigation in 70 B.C.  The stories are told in the first person, as if Decius were writing his memoirs late in life.  This provides us with entertaining hindsight about many of the famous characters, through the eyes of decent Decius.

Here is a sample from the beginning of The King's Gambit:
I received the captain of the ward vigils in my atrium, as I had on every morning since my election to the commission of Twenty-Six.  I am not an early riser by nature, and the office had no more onerous duty for me.  It was still dark and even my few clients had not begun to arrive.  The squad of vigils sat sleepily along a bench against the atrium wall, their leather buckets at their feet, while my aged janitor served them cups of watered, sour wine, hot and steaming.

"No fires in the night, Commissioner," the captain reported.  "At least not in this ward."

"May the gods be thanked," I said.  "Anywhere else?"

The books in the series are:
  1. SPQR  (The King's Gambit)
  2. The Catiline Conspiracy
  3. The Sacrilege
  4. The Temple Of The Muses
  5. Saturnalia
  6. Nobody Loves A Centurion
  7. The Tribune's Curse
  8. The River God's Vengeance
  9. The Princess and the Pirates
  10. A Point of Law
  11. Under Vesuvius
  12. Oracle of the Dead
  13. The Year of Confusion

John Maddox Roberts is seen in this interview, part 1:

The books are available in various formats including paperbacks, e-books and audio-books.  Here are the versions of SPQR - The King's Gambit at

Enjoy this view of Ancient Rome:

Rome Reborn 2.2: A Tour of Ancient Rome in 320 CE from Bernard Frischer on Vimeo.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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