The King's Gambit (SPQR I) by John Maddox Roberts

Book Review by Cinzia8

Ancient Rome shines with tales of intrigue, wealth, power, and avarice in the John Maddox Roberts mystery series SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus or Senate and the People of Rome). The first book, The King’s Gambit, is set in 70 B.C., the time of the Republic. Pompey and Crassus are the ruling Consuls and the victorious Roman General Lucullus holds the command in Asia.

The hero, Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, a patrician and former soldier is now a low-ranking official in the Commission of Twenty-Six. He commands the Vigiles (night watchmen) in the gang ridden Suburra district of Rome. The garroting of a manumitted gladiator, the murders of a foreign merchant and a wealthy freedman, all in a short amount of time, spark a dedicated investigation on the part of the lawful Decius. Right from the start intrigue abounds. A cast of characters, including Julius Caesar, Cicero, Pompey, and Crassus fill the pages. True to history and this story, each harbors political ambitions as Decius links the murders that lead to an even bigger plot.

Decius with some gruff advice from his highly respected father, the Urban Praetor Decius Caecilius Metellus, the Elder wades into a pool of violence, corruption, and even lust when he encounters the beautiful and provocative Claudia, a high-born woman with her own game that later alludes to the book’s title. Through it all, Decius with the help of a few engaging characters: Milo the street thug, the Greek physician Asklepiodes, and Burrus his old war buddy, manages to bring the reader to a gratifying as well as surprising ending.

Near the end of the novel, Decius after realizing the extent of the conspiracy he’s uncovered seeks Cicero’s advice and comments “I think at my birth some malevolent god cursed me with a need to fill my every waking minute with activity.” I can relate most heartily to this viewpoint. However, reading The King’s Gambit proved not so much business but more a pleasure.

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