This is the first in the historical mystery series set in the Roman Republic. It’s also part of my 1st in a series –challenge and 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger has been recently elected to the Commission of Twenty Six which essentially makes him the chief of the police in his own district and apparently the only investigator. So, when a man is found strangled in his district, Decius’ duty is to investigate the death. The victim turns out to be a former gladiator who had since been freed. During the same morning another murder victim is found: this time a foreigner, a Greek importer of wine. However, the Greek was suspected of being a spy as well and so it’s made it clear to Decius that second case should be investigated very quietly. The Greek’s records have been sealed so Decius suspects that the reputation of someone much higher in the Roman hierarchy is at stake. Still, he does his best to investigate both deaths because it’s his duty. Things take an uglier turn when he is attacked in his house.

The book is written from the point-of-view of an older Decius who writes his memoirs. Often, Decius refers to things to come during his lifetime. This might annoy some people and jar the reader out of the story. On the other hand, it gives nice historical perspective. If the book had been longer, it might have annoyed me, but it’s okay in a relatively short book.

Roberts gives about equal consideration to characters and the historical setting. Decius goes about his daily routine pondering about the case which gives Roberts an excuse to show us the life of a middle-class Roman. Decius’ father is the Urban Praetor for the year and his family is well respected. So, Decius meets with quite a few historically important people such as Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Titus Annius Milo, and Publius Claudius Pulcher. I don’t think it was required to put them all in the book but they were handled well.

The plot is quite simple; we’ve never really given good red herrings or even a major suspect.

Overall: I liked Roberts’ style and will continue with the series. Audible has the first two in the series and hopefully they will continue with the later books.

Edited to add: This book doesn’t contain romance. Frankly, I find this to be very refreshing because currently almost every book seems to have a courtship romance in them.

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