A POINT OF LAW by John Maddox Roberts. Machiavelli was Italian and
it is no coincidence the Italians are descended from the Romans. The Prince is a blueprint on deception and intrigue and the seizing and holding of power; based on his new Roman novel, John Maddox Roberts has read it more than once. Now, let’s be clear here. I’m a Roman Republic/Empire buff, so I’m naturally inclined to like anything pertaining to the era. But while that may incline me to overlook some faults, it makes me much more aware of others. This review first appeared at www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com.

Decius Caecilius Metellus is a typical citizen of his era, the late Roman Republic. Warrior and officer from a distinguished family he has the scars (and the money) to prove his worth as a Roman citizen. After crushing the Pirates tormenting Cyprus, Decius has returned to Rome to stand for election as Praetor, a powerful position he is sure to win. With his wife Julia, niece of Caesar, Decius has a happy life ahead of him, as long as he isn’t murdered in the dangerous capitol. Suddenly, and not altogether surprisingly given the nature of Roman politics, Decius is accused of corruption by one Fulvius, minor scion of a wealthy old family. In and of itself this is no big problem, except that the trial is scheduled immediately and disqualifies Decius from becoming Praetor. Big problem. That is, until the next morning when Fulvius winds up dead in the Forum and Decius stands accused of murder. Bigger problem.

From there the reader is swept up in the politics of Rome’s Republic as it stands on the cusp of crumbling under the power grabs of Pompey and Caesar. Decius must use evidence to clear himself, something rarely seen in Roman courts. The cast of characters is well nigh dizzying, the political manueverings complex and archaic, the backdrop and geography unfamiliar.

And yet it all works splendidly. Indeed, few historians have ever brought the Roman era to life with such ease. The reader feels drawn into this world and, frankly, isn’t ready to leave as the book closes. And the publisher has been very wise by including not only a map of Old Rome, but a list of players and a glossary as well. The reader unfamiliar with ancient Rome may want to read these first, but either way A Point of Law stands out as a truly entertaining mystery.

Grading this one an A-, simply because I hope these will only get better, even if I can’t see how that is possible.