The many fans of Roberts's SPQR series take the amazing similarity between the Rome of 83AD and our own cities. The Italian metropolis has recognizable politicans, warring leaders, all sorts of criminals and the stalwart enemies of crimeespecially the
In Roberts's gripping ninth Roman historical (after 2004's The River God's Vengeance), former aedile Decius Caecilius Metellus is dispatched from Rome by his patrician family to deal with a resurgence in piracy to Cyprus, where he encounters the young Cleopatra, whose true allegiances remain obscure. With scant resources, Metellus seeks recruits from the dregs of Cyprian society and attempts to whip his forces into a squad capable of ending the violent pillaging. His focus shifts when Silvanus, the island's Roman governor, is found dead, asphyxiated by a mouthful of frankincense. The economics of the international trade in that aromatic spice prove relevant as Metellus suspects a connection between the assassination and his primary mission. The occasional colloquial phrase jars ("Rosy-fingered Dawn was performing her daily act as we pulled up by the naval wharf"), and Roberts has the misfortune of suffering by comparison with Steven Saylor, whose latest Roman mystery, The Judgment of Caesar, used the historical Cleopatra to much better effect. Still, longtime fans and those interested in the Roman Republic will enjoy this crafty puzzle. Agent, Eleanor Wood at Spectrum Literary Agency. (June 27) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.