Saturday, May 03, 2008

SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius by John Maddox Roberts

Decius Metellus has been made a Praetor Peregrinus, or a wandering judge, taking on cases outside of Rome. With him, he has his wife, Julia, daughter of Julius Caesar, his freed slave Hermes, one of his young cousins, Marcus Metellus, and several of his wife's ladies. They have come to Baiae, a scenic area on the Italian coast, for Decius to hear cases. They are staying in a villa belonging to a friend of the family, Quintus Hortensus Hortalus. The villa is quite lavish and even boasts a Greek temple on its grounds.

While they are there, however, a woman on the estate they are staying at, Gorgo, daughter of the Priest of Campanian Apollo, is killed. Her father, Diocles, suspects Gelon, son of the Numidian Slave merchant Gaeto, as do many other citizens of the town. But Gelon pleads innocence. Decius believes him and decides to investigate the matter himself, while enjoying the hospitality of the many rich merchants and Citizens of Baiae.

Obviously, Gorgo was going to meet a lover when she was killed, but whom? Her father believes her to have been virginal, but apparently Gorgo had numerous lovers and had been pulling the wool over her father's eyes for quite some time. Diocles blames her maids, and expresses that displeasure with heavy blows of a whip.

Shortly thereafter, Gaeto is found dead in bed, a small dagger having been thrust into the base of his neck. Since Gelon has been imprisoned at the villa by Decius, he cannot be responsible for the death of his father. Signs point to the same murderer for both, amd again, shortly thereafter, another person, this time the much-abused maid of Gorgo who had been whipped and imprisoned by Diocles, then helped to escape by a fellow maid, is found dead in town, stripped naked and on display in one of the most beautiful spots in town.

Who is killing these people, and why? What secrets was Gorgo hiding and who were her apparently numerous lovers? What was Charmian hiding, and who killed her?

I enjoyed this boook. It was short, but sweet. I read it in about maybe an hour and a half, though separated by four hours of non-reading. Many old characters return, such as Cicero and his freed slave, Tiro, along with Decius's wife, Julia.

A reminder of a future disaster to come is the minor eruption of smoke and some lava from Vesuvius, which nobody gets too alarmed about. However, the mystery is good and the action crisp and exciting. If reading mysteries set in ancient times intrigues you, this is a good series to put on your list.

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