John Maddox Roberts, Author
John Maddox Roberts, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne $23.95 (290p) ISBN 978-0-312-32319-6
Reviewed on: 11/17/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004

In Roberts's entertaining, fast-paced Roman historical, his eighth to feature Decius Caecilius Metellus (after 2003's The Tribune's Curse ), Decius has just become an aedile, a city manager responsible for overseeing urban infrastructure, when he's summoned to a fatal building collapse that claims more than 200 lives. While the evidence of shoddy workmanship is consistent with the pervasive but tolerated corruption in the construction trade, Decius's trained investigative eye notes anomalies on several of the corpses; he risks his political future and his life to follow the clues. His powerful family's efforts to navigate the treacherous shifting alliances that preceded Julius Caesar's return from the Gallic Wars add to the pressures the aedile faces. Once again, Roberts does a nice job of bringing the past to life, though his scholarship and detail fall short of Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, which serves as the gold standard for ancient historicals. Despite the small universe of suspects and a solution involving nearly as much luck as dogged legwork, the book's many fine qualities should boost the ranks of Roberts's readers and send newcomers in search of the previous entries. (Jan. 20)

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