The first book of the series about ancient Rome and Detective Decius Metellus, playboy sleuth.
This literate mystery introduces the newest in an ever-expanding genre of quirky dicks: Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, a high-born bad boy, but patriotic head of a civil detective force in ancient Rome. How is the strangulation of a freed gladiator linked to the fatal stabbing of a foreigner, an importer of wine and oil, and the arson of the foreigner's warehouse? And why are those at the highest level of the Senate interested in, indeed panicked about, the demise of such seeming nonentities? With the help of his aunt, an aging Vestal Virgin, and a Greek physician whose demonstration of a garrote leaves marks on the detective's neck, Decius sniffs out a government cover-up and some fishy activities of Pompey and Crassus. Eyeballing his era, Decius serves up drolleries aplenty about historical events and characters--Cicero, Julius Caesar--and concocted ones: his father and patron, an ``old Roman to the core,'' chains his janitor to the gatepost, although it is obvious to passersby that the measly hook could be detached by the slave at any time; a ``bite of lunch'' at the home of a ``new-rich'' is a profusion of delicacies, from pickled peacocks' tongues to sows' udders stuffed with Libyan mice, deep-fried. Unfortunately, the mystery has less bite than Roberts's ( Enigma Variations ) erudite social critique. (Sept.)