Decius Caecilius Metellus, this year's magistrate for cases involving foreigners, is living the good life in southern Italy, happy to be away from Rome, a city suffering war jitters over Caesar's impending actions. He thinks he is merely visiting one of the local sights when he takes a party to visit the Oracle of the Dead, a pre-Roman cult site located at the end of a tunnel dug beneath a temple of Apollo. He quickly learns that there is a bitter rivalry between the priests of Apollo and those of Hecate, who guard the oracle.
When the priests of Apollo are all killed, the countryside looks to explode in violence as Greeks, Romans and native Italians of several conquered nations bring out old enmities. Decius is caught squarely in the middle, desperate to find a way out that will pacify the district and, incidentally, save his own skin.
This riveting series began with the Edgar Award-nominated SPQR and has gone on to international success in 13 languages.
Civil war looms between the forces of Julius Caesar and Pompey, providing an ominous background for Roberts's compelling 12th Roman historical to feature Decius Caecilius Metellus (after 2007's SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius). Recently raised to the post of praetor peregrinus, Metellus is enjoying traveling outside Rome hearing cases involving foreigners, but he gets an unexpected shock at the Oracle of the Dead near the southern Italian town of Baiae. The corpse of Eugaeon, a priest of Apollo, surfaces in the rushing stream of water inside the oracle's temple. Oddly, Eugaeon's body shows no sign of violence but is completely hairless. After the priest's missing colleagues, initially the prime suspects, also turn up dead, the astute sleuth comes to believe that these current killings are but the latest of many. Metellus puts his own life at risk in an exciting case that engages the attention of Pompey himself. (Dec.)
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December 08, 2008
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