Books by John Maddox Roberts

Released: Feb. 16, 2010

"Decius' first-person narrative is as sharp as ever, and the customary map and generous glossary will help transport readers back to ancient Rome."
Revising the Roman calendar can be deadly. Read full book review >
SPQR XII by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: Dec. 9, 2008

"The 12th Decius mystery is as crisp and absorbing as its predecessors."
Decius doesn't take the petty sniping between two groups of priests seriously...until there's a mass murder. Read full book review >
SPQR XI: UNDER VESUVIUS by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: Dec. 12, 2007

"Roberts's extensive glossary has never been so apt as in this brisk tale, entrenched in ancient history and politics."
Murder cuts short the celebration of senator cum sleuth Decius's professional promotion. Read full book review >
SPQR X: A POINT IN LAW by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: May 22, 2006

"Roberts's tenth Roman mystery (SPQR IX: The Princess and the Pirates, 2005, etc.) benefits from a wry first-person narrative. "
A Roman senator turns sleuth once more to clear himself from suspicion of murder. Read full book review >
Released: June 27, 2005

"Colorful characters led by Cleopatra and historical tidbits add entertainment to a middling mystery. Bonus: a ten-page glossary."
An ancient Roman sleuth aided by a teenaged Cleopatra tracks down pirates and solves a murder. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 20, 2004

"Short on mystery but surprisingly engaging, especially for series fans and ancient-history buffs."
The suspicious destruction of an apartment building in ancient Rome prompts an investigation of civic corruption and murder. Read full book review >
SPQR VII: THE TRIBUNE’S CURSE by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: March 12, 2003

"Though the mysteries come late in the story, smart, brisk writing and abundant historical color keep up interest until they arrive."
Caesar's Gallic Wars drag on, but narrator/sleuth Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger (SPQR VI: Nobody Loves a Centurion, 2001, etc.) couldn't care less. Caesar has sent the young nobleman back home to Rome, where he plans to immerse himself in culture, canoodle with his new wife, Caesar's niece Julia, and run for his first political office. His calm, and that of the city, is disrupted by the military plans of Crassus, Pompey and Caesar's ambitious co-triumvir. Tensions are already high among the three; now Crassus' eagerness to embark on this new campaign, an apparent challenge to militant Caesar, rouses public uneasiness. In the midst of his ceremonial departure, tribune Aetius Capito, a political enemy, puts a curse on Crassus and the city for sanctioning his expedition. This is bad enough, but Aetius uses "the Secret Name of Rome," a word known only to oracles and suchlike, to make the curse stick. It falls to Decius to save the city by ferreting out the individual who gave Aetius the ammunition and incidentally treating the reader to a tour of ancient Rome's tenderloin. Midway through his investigation, Aetius is found murdered, and the probe expands to the political class, enemies of Crassus and/or the triumvirate. Clear-eyed, tart-tongued Julia plays Nero Wolfe to Decius' Archie Goodwin, staying home and sifting the information he gleans in his legwork. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2000

"A slow-motion, hokey space opera."
A ham-handed, sophomoric thriller about the international race to orbit solar-powered satellites and the struggle to keep outer space open for free enterprise. Read full book review >
SPQR: SATURNALIA by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

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.). Read full book review >
DESPERATE HIGHWAYS by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: Nov. 12, 1997

Since shamus Gabe Treloar (The Ghost of Saigon, 1996, etc.) can't say no to his boss, he drops his caseload in Knoxville and takes off after doting Randall (Kit) Carson's daughter Sibyl, who seems to have traded grad school—despite her all-American credentials—for the dubious company of used-car con artist Nick Switzer. A look at some diaries and photographs suggest that Sibyl's been reading too much Nietzsche and posing for some very odd pictures (she and Switzer in doctors' whites?), but they don't tell Gabe where she is. So Gabe hits the desperate highways for points west. His odyssey will take him to Memphis (where he spends a few expensive minutes of quality time with the corpse of Pat Jennings, one of Switzer's late friends), Oklahoma City (where he exchanges pleasantries with Jasper Holt, a bounty hunter who's also looking for Switzer), Santa Fe (where he learns the sinister meaning of the ``DTT'' logo carved into Jennings's face), Albuquerque (where he hears just how dangerous the other folks who are looking for Switzer are), and Las Vegas (where hunters and hunted meet in a memorable Mexican standoff that does nothing to clear the books) before careening to a percussive climax high in the Sierras. Gabe's third keeps the action moving along smartly with barely a stop for gas. Only the homiletics on how white supremacists are different from neo-Nazis and how good girls go bad break what Gabe aptly calls the ``total paranoia immersion.'' Read full book review >
THE GHOSTS OF SAIGON by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: July 8, 1996

Private eye Gabe Treloar's second caper is even more complicated and dangerous than his first (A Typical American Town, 1994). Talk about ghosts: He's off booze, his wife Rose is dead (he met and married the young Vietnamese woman during his tour of duty), and he's an ex-LAPD cop with no desire to return to Los Angeles. But Vietnam buddy Mitch Queen invites him to a vet reunion, then hires him to find out why Martin Starr is threatening to kill anyone who stars in Queen's new movies, to be made on location in Saigon. Back in that city in 1968, Gabe and Mitch were escorting Martin Starr, one of the so-called ``ghosts'' of the criminal underworld, off to prison. Starr, however, escaped during the Tet Offensive. The assignment now inevitably takes Gabe back to L.A., where he meets the film's star, Selene Gibson (think Ava Gardner), and p.i. Connie Armijo, who's been hired to protect Selene. When one of Gabe's Vietnamese relatives is murdered, he and Connie investigate a possible L.A. connection. But Gabe—and the reader—knows it all goes back to Saigon and those ghosts that won't die. He and Connie return there, only to discover that they both have their own Vietnam ghosts. The Saigon sequences, both past and the present, are the most effective here, mainly because Roberts emphasizes character over plot. That's also why the obligatory romance works so well. An offbeat, haunting tale with some thrilling movie-like action. Read full book review >
A TYPICAL AMERICAN TOWN by John Maddox  Roberts
Released: Nov. 11, 1994

Historical specialist Roberts (King of the Wood, 1982, etc.) strides into the present with a lot more confidence than his hero, burned-out LAPD veteran Gabe Treloar, who bungles a suicide attempt on the road to a PI job in Cleveland. He then decides to follow the exit ramp to what turns out to be his old hometown—Monticello, Ohio, where his old pal Lew Czuk (now owner and editor of the local rag) and his old flame Lola Cohan (princess of the local first family) recognize him almost on sight after all these years, and where friendly landlady Edna Tutt can rent him a room in the house he grew up in. It's all too good to be true, of course, and Roberts pulls out all the stops when things go wrong: First Edna is killed after hours of torture; then Gabe's search into her past turns up a fabulously checkered history that ties her in to girlie magazines, a 30-year-old payroll robbery that left four people dead, and, inevitably, Ansel Cohan, the scalawag head of the Cohan clan; finally, a second murder leaves Gabe in the frame, pursued by the rapacious state prosecutor Ansel has lined up as Lola's consort. Luckily, Gabe gets some unlikely help from the local sheriff, whose father was one of the payroll victims, and a hungry reporter desperate to get out of Monticello—as who wouldn't be by this time? Despite too many obvious villains, Roberts's warmth and unsparing insight make the familiar story of Gabe's cathartic return home a special treat for Ross Macdonald fans. Read full book review >