In ancient Rome, they celebrated the winter solstice with boozing, brawling, and similar manifestations of indecorous behavior—the Saturnalia. What more fitting time, then, for that party animal Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger to return from exile in Rhodesia where his disapproving family parked him to keep him harmless? A situation has arisen tailor-made for his special talents, Decius being a gifted snoop. In general, snooping was not regarded with warmth by Roman aristocracy, but circumstances do alter cases. For good and sufficient reasons, the Metellus family views the Lady Clodia as a dangerous political enemy, and if it can be demonstrated that she willfully and with malice aforethought poisoned her husband (Decius' kinsman), permanent exile would result forthwith. That's your job, the family paterfamilias tells Decius in no uncertan terms. But Lady Clodia is the sister of Tribune Clodius, next to Julius Caesar the most powerful figure in Rome. Your job is to prove Clodia innocent, Clodius tells Decius, in terms equally unequivocal, leaving Decius to fill in the scary blanks. Needless to say Decius successfully charts a course between Scylla and Charybdis, thus serving justice, fulfilling family obligations, and saving his precious skin. He also does some whooping it up along the way. Too talky, too thinly plotted, and Decius is a charmless rake for whom it's hard to work up much empathy. This out of print series is being republished, St. Martin's says, in response to popular appeal. But Steven Saylor does ancient Rome better, and Roberts does better with his Gabe Treloar series (Desperate Highways, 1997, etc.).
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