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The King's Gambit

(SPQR #1)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  2,528 ratings  ·  202 reviews
In this Edgar Award nominated mystery, John Maddox Roberts takes readers back to a Rome filled with violence and evil. Vicious gangs ruled the streets of Crassus and Pompey, routinely preying on plebeian and patrician alike. So the garroting of a lowly ex-slave and the disembowelment of a foreign merchant in the dangerous Subura district seemed of little consequence to the ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published August 24th 2001 by Minotaur Books (first published September 1990)
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Michael Lee Most definitely; though I agree, he doesn't really hit his stride until the 3rd or 4th novel.…moreMost definitely; though I agree, he doesn't really hit his stride until the 3rd or 4th novel.(less)

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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  2,528 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical-novel
(A revision of an earlier review)

A great novel rich in historical detail about Rome, especially the complexities of politics and how people rose to power. We also learn a lot about daily life in Rome: meals, customs, slavery.


We also learn a lot about crime and street thugs in ancient Rome. Many people are murdered at this time in Rome, buy it only matters to the authorities if it is someone of social significance. It wasn't always safe to go out in the streets at night despite the supposedly tig
Georgina Ortiz
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this book while taking a break from Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. Because I only had two Roma Sub Rosa books left to read, I was scouting for another series set in Ancient Rome (can't get enough of this genre). I saw Roberts' SPQR while surfing the Net, bought the first book in the series, and read it after finishing Saylor's A Mist of Prophecies.

I wasn't disappointed.

While the Roma Sub Rosa series can be described as fast-paced (I practically gobbled up every exhilarating book in
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-rome, mystery
First book in the SQPR series.

Decius is just starting out in his first public office, as sort of a low level fire chief/peacekeeper, when not only is somebody murdered, but a building is set on fire. Decius starts to investigate, and the clues take him into ever higher social circles. Things keep heating up for him, but he follows his duty, only to wish he hadn't found the truth after all.

Good stuff. You can see why it became a series.
I’ve been disappointed with several of the Roman mysteries on offer and found myself looking back fondly on the old SPQR and Falcoseries. I remembered these books as standouts and was curious how tainted my memory was by nostalgia. I’ve learned a lot about the ancient world since reading these books and I wondered whether my affection for these books would be reduced by the number of liberties taken.

I’m pleased to say that the books are as good as I remember, although this of course was never th
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
The story itself is simple and could be written in a few pages but it is the complexities of Roman society, the culture, language, social issues and politics that make these stories rich in detail with characters that are interesting, sympathetic, scandalous, and very human.
Kathy Davie
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, mystery
First in the SPQR historical mystery series revolving around Decius Caecilius Metellus and his interest in snooping, LOL.

My Take
Roberts is using a first-person narration, and it's odd to hear him tell us what's happening now AND of various characters' futures at the same time. Useful, but odd. It does, however, contribute to my feeling of being hit over the head. As though I'm not bright enough to pick up on the clues.

That bit when Roberts introduces the forensics aspect of it with Asklepiodes a
Dana Stabenow
Sep 15, 2011 rated it liked it
You must understand, whoever you are, that in those days Rome, mistress of half the world, was a place as savage as a village of Nile pygmies.

Thus providing employment for our narrator, one Decius Caecilius Metellus, young commander of what passes for local law enforcement in his district of the city of the seven hills, circa 70BC. As John Maddox Roberts’ The King’s Gambit begins, someone is committing arson and garroting manumitted gladiators and rich freedmen in Rome. In a plot that moves fro
Maybe I wasn't in the right mood, or maybe it just wasn't very good... I don't know. I just didn't care much for it.
I'll stick to Marcus Didius Falco, he's a much more entertaining protagonist.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
The following is about the series as a whole, to most of which I give 5 stars. I actually liked the later ones better than this one, the first, which was certainly good.

I'm an amateur Latinist with scholarly training, and have long had a particular interest in the late Roman Republic, the period of this series. I'm astonished at how well Roberts gets into the minds of the Romans, into the details of their lives, into events and the politics and other factors behind those events. I find them much
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I have read a few books on ancient Rome recently and came across this Edgar nominated mysteries by John Maddox Roberts. He is a new author to me but I understand he is a well known Sci-Fi writer. The book takes place in about 70 B.C.E. and follows Decius Caecilius Metellus the younger, who is a patrician and former soldier how is now a low ranking official in the commission of Twenty Six (sort of policeman). The garroting of a manumitted gladiator, a foreign merchant and a wealthy freedman all i ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've read the Falco series, this one is more hard-boiled, less snarky; although, Decimus isn't bad with apt commentary. Technology hadn't changed that much in the century between the series, so day to day life remained pretty similar.

Pirates feature in this story, which I don't recall much in Falco's travels, with one exception and that I recall more as smuggling. I'm a fan of the sidekick Milo, as well as being drawn by John Lee's narration.
Good mystery, well-narrated. Not certain why Blackstone has re-recorded with John Lee; although I haven't listened to Simon Vance's recording, I imagine it's as good as Lee's fine version. Moves at a fairly leisurely pace, as it's filled with interesting historical details; first in series sets up characters, including real historical personages; complex mystery; polished style; rather dark tone. ...more
Jamie Collins
This reads like a dry history lesson compared to the richness of Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. There's way too much exposition, with a convenient foreigner present who needs Rome's customs and traditions explained to him. I could see potential in the main character, though, so I'll try the second book to see if there is an improvement in the prose. ...more
Madhulika Liddle
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
The first of the SPQR series, The King’s Gambit is narrated by its detective, Decius Caecilius Metellus, one of the commissioners of Rome. On the same night that a fire breaks out and destroys a warehouse, its owner, a foreigner, is found murdered. A would-be gladiator, more a street thug than anything else, is also found, separately, dead. Neither foreigner nor thug warrants the attention of an official, but Metellus is too conscientious to let that deter him. So he begins an investigation…

I li
If you're a history buff and love all things late Roman Republic, this is a most excellent read, as Bill or Ted might describe it. As a whodunit mystery novel chock full of murder most foul, intrigue, a few double crossings, a dab of licentious sex, and peopled by corrupt politicians, street brawlers, early CSI Greek physicians, and even a contortionist, this book is sure to delight.

Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is of the plebian nobility, which means he's an up-and-comer in the late Re
Thomas W Shepherd
Roman Life and Political Intrigue

John Maddox Roberts takes you to the closing decades of the Roman Republic in this first novel in his remarkable SPQR series. You'll see the ancient world through the eyes of Decius Caecillis Matellus the Younger, and it will change you forever. Great characters from history come alive. Highly recommend.

Jack Heath
Nov 16, 2019 marked it as to-read
Synopsis: it's Rome in 70 BC and Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, commander of the vigiles, is determined to investigate two violent crimes. ...more
First in a series set in ancient Rome, which I think I'll continue reading as time permits. It's the sort of historical mystery from which one learns, fairly effortlessly, quite a bit about the time and place where it's set. I fear that most of what I know of ancient Rome comes from reading Edith Hamilton 50+ years ago, at least until this year when I listened to both Roberts' book and Thomas Harris' Imperium. The King's Gambit was a good mystery with an engaging protagonist.Recommended. ...more
Aug 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Take John Sanford's Virgil Flowers or Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, drop the guy into the last years of the ancient Roman Republic, add a physician that is a proto-forensic scientist, throw in a couple of underworld figures, and you get The King's Gambit. It was a fun read, and the broad strokes of history are accurate enough. ...more
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The King's Gambit by John Maddox Roberts Set in the 1st century ancient Rome, this murder mystery will have you hooked and wanting more. In the time of Crassus and Pompey, murder and intrigue are not that uncommon. However, their is the dual murders of an ex-slave and a foreign merchant that catch the eye of Decius Caecilius Metellus. He isn’t willing to write these deaths off so quickly.
When I was younger, I read several of these SPQR books in paperback. I just couldn’t get enough of them. I wa
Mr. Matt
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: hf-roman, 2013, hf-mystery
Three stars bordering on three and a half. The book follows Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, a minor civic official in ancient (pre-Imperial) Rome charged with investigating crimes. In this book he stumbles across a very deep conspiracy that seeks to undermine a Roman general in the field.

The book does a great job at placing the reader in a living, breathing city. It really immerses you. It was a nice diversion from the traditional "military" historical fiction that I've been reading - sto
Shawn Thrasher
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read The King's Gambit many years ago (so long ago I couldn't remember whodunnit); I enjoy listening to audio versions of books I have enjoyed in the past. I loved this series; the audio version was just extra chocolate chips in the cookie. The King's Gambit is a bit noir-ish; there is first person detective Decius (in this case reminiscing about the past), a femme fatale (actually two), lots of tough talking thugs, at least three murders, and a piece of jewelry (a "Roman falcon") on whi ...more
Vicki Cline
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman-mysteries
Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is the scion of a prominent political family, hoping to work his way up the cursus honorum. He gets involved in clearing up some murders and enlists the help of two characters who appear in subsequent volumes of the series - Milo (a real historical character), who knows the streets and Asklepiodes, the doctor at a local gladiator school. While respectful of his elders, particularly his father, he's pretty nosy and gets involved more than he intended, especia ...more
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was ok. Set in the seventh century during the Roman Empire, so one strike against is that it's not really a favored time/place combination for me, historically speaking. I wasn't bowled over by the story, and found the large number of peripheral characters with similar-sounding names to be very confusing. Also the Roman terminology, which thankfully there was a glossary for in the back, but it was awkward using the Kindle. I think also the Kindle formatting was very poorly done which f ...more
Aug 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm reading several mystery series set in Ancient Rome to keep up with my Roman history before starting my second year of Roman studies. This one works especially well for that purpose since it contains a large glossary of terms, a map, and lots of explanations of Roman life. However if you are not particularly interested in ancient Roman history you might find this more than you wanted to know. The mystery is adequate and I had it somewhat figured out.

Beginning of a series for students of Anci
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-the-library
I like this whole SPQR series. Not only has it done better than most nonfiction books at making the politics and way of life of the late Roman Republic comprehensible, but they're very well-plotted and interesting mysteries, and Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is a very believable investigator. ...more
William Sariego
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
A wonderful detective story set during the last days of the Republic. The author works in some famous names, and not to the detriment of the immediate story, which is no small feat. Dry and sardonic humor throughout, this was a good, light read. For those not as familiar with Rome as I, the author provides a glossary in back for period terminology.
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
While I like period detail, there was too much of it in this book for me. I felt like the author wanted to show every bit of his research here. The book was entertaining though, and the narration of the audiobook was excellent. I'm willing to give the series another chance. ...more
Dec 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not a bad little tale, full of historical characters and a neat plot. Truthfully, a simple intellectual confection which can be recommended for a fine knot to be untangled by a memorable "detective". ...more
**2015 Reading Challenge W/Josh: #29 A Book Set Somewhere You've Always Wanted To Visit** ...more
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aka Mark Ramsay

John Maddox Roberts is the author of numerous works of science fiction and fantasy, in addition to his successful historical SPQR mystery series. The first two books in the series have recently been re-released in trade paperback. He lives in New Mexico with his wife.

Other books in the series

SPQR (1 - 10 of 13 books)
  • The Catiline Conspiracy (SPQR, #2)
  • The Sacrilege (SPQR, #3)
  • The Temple of the Muses (SPQR, #4)
  • Saturnalia (SPQR, #5)
  • Nobody Loves a Centurion (SPQR, #6)
  • The Tribune's Curse (SPQR, #7)
  • The River God's Vengeance (SPQR, #8)
  • The Princess and the Pirates (SPQR, #9)
  • A Point of Law (SPQR, #10)
  • Under Vesuvius (SPQR, #11)

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