SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead
John Maddox Roberts
Dunne, Dec 2008, $24.95
As much as Decius Metellus loves Rome, he is glad to be a praetor traveling all over the Italian Peninsular hearing cases involving foreigners. It is not a great time in Rome with Caesar and the Senate in a deadlock in which civil war threatens to erupt if the former crosses the Rubicon. If he does the Senate will send Pompey to fight him, but Decius knows Caesar’s legions are battle tested in Gaul while Pompey’s has not fought in years.
Decius is setting up court in Baiae, but quickly learns the town is not removed from the strife. He and his traveling companions including his wife want to visit the Oracle of the Dead, a site dedicated to Hecate but beneath the Temple of Apollo. Supporters of both are feuding. After traveling through a tunnel to get to the underground river where the Oracle makes pronouncements, one of the Apollo priests is found dead; five more priests are also found dead. Decius wonders how they were killed because he followed them through the tunnels and never heard any deadly sounds. The city is outraged and demands Decius find the culprit; he agrees since someone wants him dead too.
John Maddox Roberts makes Ancient Rome come to life enabling readers to believe they are accompanying Decius on his travels. This allows the audience to understand how people feel about the Caesar-Senate confrontation. Decius represents many folks who believe if Caesar seizes power he will execute employees and supporters (Decius’ family backs Pompey) of the current. The SPQR saga is one of the consistently best historical mystery series with number XII another winner.