The book “The Temple of the Muses” by John Maddox Roberts is a detective story set in ancient Rome. The book is nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe (Edgar Awards), which is presented by the Mystery Writers of America organization.
The action of the book takes place in the 1st century BCE (which is not very obvious at first). It is only known that Egypt is not yet a Roman province (it became such in 30 BCE). It should be noted, however, that the author of the novel does not stick to historical facts, which he proved, for example, with the book “Children of Hannibal”. Therefore, the book should be approached not from the point of view of a historian, but rather from the point of view of a reader who simply wants to indulge in the action.
The narrative is in the first person, which is supposed to connect us more with the hero. The main character of the novel is a certain Decius Cecilius Metellus the Younger, a Roman senator who, for political reasons, had to go on a diplomatic mission to Egypt, and more precisely to the wealthy Alexandria. The author carefully tries to show us the enormity of this ancient metropolis, full of Egyptian debauchery and the ubiquitous ritual and ceremonial. Unexpectedly, the hero finds himself in the middle of a mystery and conspiracy that extends far beyond Egypt. Decius, as befits a true Roman, undertakes to solve the murder of a great mathematician. Gradually, together with his companions, he delves deeper and deeper into the investigation, which leads him to discover an extremely important secret that could threaten Rome itself. The party will also be involved.
The book will certainly not seem interesting to a historian who wants to explore the realities of the Roman-Egyptian world based on historical facts. It should be emphasized that John Maddox Roberts did not want to focus on discussing reality, but rather to build an interesting and colorful ancient world that would absorb the reader. Such scenery is only conducive to creating images and visions of the great city of Egypt. We learn about the social and court structure of the Ptolemaic state. The main character has to deal with eunuchs many times, who are the elite and the most important advisers of the royal family. It also seems that the author very neatly shows the disproportions of the Roman and Egyptian worlds. Members of the Roman elite are overwhelmed by the extravagant lifestyle of the Egyptians. Two completely different civilizations are set against each other.
Despite the initial reluctance to the author’s style, I must admit that the world created in the novel is extremely interesting and engaging. This book is the kind of book that you “eat” in one evening. The action is lively and changeable, the characters are colorful, and the finale is surprising. I can wholeheartedly recommend this novel.