His two years of aedileship over, Decius is ready for his next adventure. He would rather do anything than join the war with Caesar, so he and Hermes find themselves on a mission to rid the Mediterranean of pirates. They set off with shoddy ships and sailors to the island of Cyprus, where a young Cleopatra is staying. Between her impressive crew and the ex-pirate Ariston providing insider knowledge of that cutthroat occupation, Decius thinks he stands a good chance of bringing himself some glory.
That would be too simple though. The ruler of the island is murdered and Decius has a sacred duty to find and punish the guilty party. As he investigates world trade, the island history, and the new kind of piracy plaguing the waters, he is finding connections more menacing than he had ever imagined possible.
Roberts crafts another skillful mystery, this one fervently pulsing with the collision of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian interests.
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.
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January 23, 2006
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