Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre. You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.
Today we’re going back in time, to ancient Rome, approximately 70-20 B.C….
John Maddox Roberts’ Decius Metellus the Younger
Some interesting facts about John Maddox Roberts and the SPQR series:
1. Roberts served in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He decided to take up writing because “it looked easy and was something I could do indoors.”
2. Roberts has written more than 45 books, in science fiction/fantasy, historical, historical mystery, and noir mystery. SPQR is probably his best-known and followed series, with 13 books so far, but he also has a strong fan following for his 8-book contribution to the Conan books.
3. Roberts’ background in anthropology/archaeology serves him well in this series, with a rich level of detail about day-to-day life, politics, and ethics in Ancient Rome.
4. SPQR is the Latin initialed abbreviation for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” – “The Senate and People of Rome” – the republic’s official designation. Decius recounts his adventures in flashback form, when he’s older, at the time of Octavian’s reign.
Why we like Decius and the series:
1. The puzzles themselves are cleverly done (always satisfying to a mystery reader).
2. Decius is shrewd, politically savvy, but not a keester-kisser.
3. He has a knack for finding trouble (or trouble finding him). One enemy in particular, Clodius, keeps showing up and trying to kill him. Clodius is not a particularly clever, Moriarty-like villian; he’s more like a thug, but the timing is always bad, and complicates whatever Decius’s particular problem is at the time.
4. Decius is tough in a fight, and his ingenuity often saves his life.
5. In my personal opinion, the protagonist’s best feature is his wise-cracking, sarcastic narration. Here are two examples, from the short story “Mightier than the Sword”:
- “I was down there inspecting [the newly constructed basement] because in Rome honest building contractors are as common as volunteer miners in the Sicilian sulphur pits.”
- “The Big Three were out of Rome for a change: Caesar was gloriously slaughtering barbarians in Gaul, Crassus was doing exactly the opposite in Syria, and Pompey was sulking in Spain while his flunkies tried to harangue the Senate into making him Dictator.”
Want the answers to the last quiz?
Can you match the nemesis for each detective/spy? (Again, I’m throwing in an extra choice to challenge you!)
1. Sam Spade: c. Caspar Gutman
2. Sherlock Holmes: a. Professor Moriarty
3. Perry Mason: e. Hamilton Burger (District Attorney)
4. James Bond: b. SPECTER
a. Professor Moriarty
c. Caspar Gutman
d. Hannibal Lecter
e. Hamilton Burger
Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!
Can you match these detectives with their signature vice or hobby?
1. Nero Wolfe
2. Sherlock Holmes
4. Nick Charles
a. cigar smoking
c. growing orchids
e. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Hope you’re getting a kick out of the quizzes. Have you read the SPQR series? Are you interested in stories set in Ancient Rome? I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,