Decius doesn’t take the petty sniping between two groups of priests seriously...until there’s a mass murder.
Ancient Roman senator and sometime sleuth Decius Caecilius Metellus is spending a year in idyllic Campania in the south of Italy, along with his tart-tongued wife Julia and much of his household. His yearlong post as Praetor should be a breeze, but instead of leisure he finds strife. He’s sucked into the middle of a bitter and longstanding feud between the priests of Hecate and the priests of Apollo, who accuse Hecate’s followers, charged with protecting the region’s Oracle, of practicing the blasphemous Dark Arts. Matters come to a boil when Eugaeon, one of Apollo’s priests, is murdered. Each side blames the other for the outrage, which is compounded dramatically when all the remaining priests of Apollo disappear and are soon found dead. The neat arrangement of the victims’ bodies adds another layer to the puzzle. Solving the crimes requires Decius to immerse himself in the unique subculture and beliefs of the priestly orders. Foreign trade, a secret tunnel and a deadly archer figure prominently in the solution. As in previous outings (SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius, 2007, etc.), Roberts uses his whodunit as a springboard for accessible lessons on ancient history. This time his generous glossary emphasizes military terms and temple customs.
The 12th Decius mystery is as crisp and absorbing as its predecessors.