John Maddox Roberts
Dunne, Nov 2007, $23.95, 224 pp.
After a grueling but productive year Decius is now a Praetor traveling through Rome and when the situations warrants he judges a case or two between foreigners who reside and work in the Empire. He and his wife Julia, the nice of Julius Caesar are having a year long vacation visiting the sits off Ancient Rome. When they arrive in Baiae in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, he notices something that might spell trouble later.
He is welcomed to the city by the priest of Apollo, Diocles and his daughter Gorgo who is infatuated with Gelon the son of the wealthy Numidian slave trader Gaeto. Diocles would never a allow match between his daughter and a man whose father is a slave trader, an occupation that is anathema to the Romans even though they keep slaves. When Gorgo is murdered, the townsfolk believe Gelon is the killer and they demand the Praetor Decius to bring him to trial. Decius doesn’t think he is guilty but keeps him under house arrest to buy time to prove he is not the killer of Diocles. On his way back to his home, Decius and his entourage is attacked by bandits who want him dead. Another murder is committed that of Charmian, a friend and slave of Gorgo. Decius believes that these deaths and the attack are linked but the people of Baiae want Gelon tried; leaving the Praetor only a few hours to find the real killer or an innocent man will be beheaded.
UNDER VESUVIUS is a great historical mystery that brings to life Ancient Rome just prior to when Caesar becomes the dictator. The descriptions of the time period and area are so vivid that readers know much historical research went into the writing of SPQR XI. The victims had many suspects who wanted them dead and the protagonist can’t find the single motive that links the killings. He is not about to quit because he refuses to let an innocent man die. Armchair time travelers will find this exciting and entertaining as much as the ancient historical whodunit crowd.