Max Allan Collins is the 2017 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, a Lifetime Achievement Award winner from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the author of many books, including “Road to Perdition,” which became the Oscar winning film, and the Quarry novels, the basis for the hit TV series.
That's Decius Caecilius Metellus speaking---Senator Decius Caecilius Metellus, please. He is at an outdoor rally in Rome where he is campaigning for election to the praetorship. It looks like a shoo-in, until a man named Fulvius, of whom Decius has never heard, arrives at the preelection proceedings with a small army of hoodlums and begins to shout to the assembled voters that Decius is a thief and worse. While this is not an unknown effort used to ruin a candidate's chances, it is enough to have Decius's father call a meeting of family and friends--a meeting that ends with the participants going home determined to find some answers to stop Fulvius's efforts to ruin Decius's chances.
Early the next morning, however, as Decius and his friends are on their way to the trial, Fulvius's body is found slashed to death on the steps of the basilica, where the court will be sitting. And that doesn't look good for our hero.
For those readers who have met Decius before, the next step is clear: the man is a brilliant detective, and he is certainly now in a position where that skill is needed. So it's doubly important for Decius, with the help of his wife, Julia, and the ex-slave Hermes, to find the solution to the most personal---and possibly most difficult---puzzle that has come his way.
On the day he and his troops set out from Rome, the Tribune Ateius Capitus, leader of the opposition, shrieks an ancient and terrible curse over the huge crowd assembled -- a curse that frightens not only the man in the street but the highest Romans. When Ateius is murdered soon after, Decius, solver of past mysteries, has the ugly task of finding the killer. Fascinating details of Rome's mixed attitudes about the power of magic and the practice of rational politics illuminate this latest of Roberts's strong historical mysteries.
His two years of aedileship over, Decius is ready for his next adventure. He would rather do anything than join the war with Caesar in the dismal forests of Gaul, so he and his slave/protégé 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, Silvanus, is murdered in a most peculiar fashion and Decius, as a guest in his home, has a sacred duty to find and punish the guilty party. Because world relations are already strained, he would rather not suspect Cleopatra, heir to the Egyptian throne. But she has plenty of reasons to hate Rome and murder runs in her family. Another guest and suspect is Gabinius, who is in exile and could have easily given up loyalty toward his friend if it meant a quicker return to Rome. In the meantime, Decius is being humiliated in his pirate hunt, and as if this weren't enough, Aphrodite herself seeks Decius's help by appearing to him in a dream vision. As Decius 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.
In this ninth book in the series, Roberts crafts another skillful mystery, this time fervently pulsing with the collision of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian interests.
Decius's arrival disappoints the great Caesar as well. He has been waiting for promised reinforcements from Rome, an influx of soldiers to restart his invasion. Instead he is presented with one young man ridiculously decked out in military parade finery and short on military skills, accompanied not by eager troops but by one callow and reluctant slave, the feckless Hermes.
It soon develops, however, that Decius's arrival was fortuitous. When Vinius, the army's cruelest centurion (so-called because he commands a hundred soldiers), is found murdered, Caesar remembers that his new recruit has successfully come up with the culprit in a number of recent crimes. Murder is bad for morale, particularly since it seems quite clear that the murderer was one of Caesar's men. Caesar orders Decius to find the killer -- and quickly.
Although evidence points to the son of one of Decius's clients -- a youth who was the particular target of the centurion's brutality, Decius racks his brain to find a way to save him from the sentence of death. The investigation leads Decius to two German slaves of the dead man -- a dwarfish old man and a beautiful woman. They are puzzling; the man is arrogant, the woman haughty--very unlike slaves. There are unanswered questions. It soon becomes clear to Decius that only by finding and punishing the real murderer will it be possible to quiet the rising dissatisfaction with Caesar's unorthodox method of warfare and forestall a mutiny against the mighty Caesar's authority and aims.
Even more startling, the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—a secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci—and he guarded a breathtaking historical secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle—while avoiding the faceless adversary who shadows their every move—the explosive, ancient truth will be lost forever.