Saturnalia

John Maddox Roberts, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (275p) ISBN 978-0-312-20582-9
Sporting an anachronistic, decidedly modern-day sensibility, the Roman senator Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger returns to his native Rome from Rhodes at a time when Julius Caesar is beginning his rise to power. Worldly and a bit of a playboy, the prodigal son has been recalled by his family to investigate the death by poisoning of Celer, a wealthy and influential relative. The dead man's wife, Clodia, flaunts most conventional notions of common decency and is clearly capable of murder. She has also been spotted cavorting with witches during the wild Saturnalia celebrations, which are rumored to include a human sacrifice. Decius's father is convinced Clodia is the killer. But her brother, Clodius, an implacable political rival of the Metellus clan, also asks Decius to investigate. He's convinced his sister is innocent--of this crime at least. Decius must balance his devotion to the truth with his family loyalty and pick his way gingerly through the dangerous political intrigues of imperial Rome. Roberts (SPQR IV: The Temple of the Muses, etc.) unleashes a barrage of plots and personalities as he re-creates the lavishness of patrician Roman life. The plot is less engrossing than the setting, but the treacherous atmosphere lingers, as does the wily, if decent Decius. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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