Saturnalia) sixth SPQR mystery, "I blame it all on Alexander the Great," sets the tone for this briskly paced, lightheart"/>

NOBODY LOVES A CENTURION: SPQR VI

John Maddox Roberts, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne $22.92 (224p) ISBN 978-0-312-27257-9

The first line of Roberts's (Saturnalia) sixth SPQR mystery, "I blame it all on Alexander the Great," sets the tone for this briskly paced, lighthearted Roman historical. Decius Caecillus Mettellus, the would-be playboy son of an illustrious family, plays reluctant sleuth. "Would-be" because his considerable intelligence causes him to be drafted into the most serious affairs of state. When his worst enemy, who could do him great harm, wins a tribuneship, Decius decides it's time to leave Rome. In addition, the family patriarchs, who are grooming him for public office, want him to have more military service. So Decius and his slave, Hermes, journey deep into Gaul, where Caius Julius Caesar is at war with the Helvetii. Caesar's legion faces an unknown number of the enemy, but the trouble really begins when the legion's most hated centurion, Titus Vinius, gets murdered. Titus's death throws suspicion on eight men, who will be executed unless the guilty party is found. Before leaving to recruit additional legions, Caesar assigns the task of uncovering the killer to Decius, who as usual proves a courageous and methodical sleuth. Roberts deftly recreates his ancient world, constantly reminding the reader that it was a cruel and violent place where people thought and acted a lot differently from us. A double-edged solution perfectly caps a highly entertaining story. (Sept. 24)

Reviewed on: 08/27/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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