SPQR IV is JMR's best offering of Decius Metellus the Younger. Having so often referred to circumstance or snooping imposed periods of exile we finally get to see how well Decuis travels.
And the result is as well as Todd's Claudia Seferius and better than Davis' Didius Falco.
This installment finds our erstwhile hero appearing as a Roman diplomat at Alexandria, in the Eyptian province. Ably supported by his slave Hermes and the great physician character, Asklepodies he is quickly joined by his now-confirmed betrothed Julia Minor and the female half of Sulla's twin children, Fausta.
As Decius and Julia wrly note towards the end, Decius gets tangled in a web of murder simply because it is, as Ptolemy the Flute-Player notes, his hobby. The murder, mayhem and rioting that he brings as part of his investigatory technique disrputs an entire city to the point that his denouement and great service to the Roman state is swiftly followed by him being tossed on the nearest ship to Rhodes. Never mind.
No venture into Alexandria can occur without philosophical ramblings (Decius' dry comments on the death of Archimedes to Antigones is extremely humorous) and they abound here in plenty, beginning with the death of the mathematician turned secret mechanics-dabbler Iphicrates.
The only thing that slightly disappoints and echoes the previous novel, is that the 'uncovering' is always lame. In this case the three culprits get together, write everything down and neatly recount everything they've done to the listening Decius. These people deserve to be caught if that's the case. You get the feeling JMR hadn't quite yet mastered the art of the murder mystery denouement in the same vein as that master of such - Agatha Christie.
Nevertheless, aside from a poor murder mystery ending, the rest of the tale is extremely good and the dry sardonic innocence of Decius 'snooping' is now firmly established making this tale very humorous.