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The King’s Gambit cover art

The King’s Gambit

By: John Maddox Roberts
Narrated by: John Lee
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Summary

Blackmail, corruption, treachery, murder - the glory that was Rome.

In this Edgar Award-nominated mystery, John Maddox Roberts takes listeners 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 Roman hierarchy. But Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, highborn commander of the local vigiles, was determined to investigate. Despite official apathy, brazen bribes, and sinister threats, Decius uncovers a world of corruption at the highest levels of his government that threatens to destroy him and the government he serves.

©2007 John Maddox Roberts (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about The King’s Gambit

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    3 out of 5 stars

No Falco, this.

Dreadful mannered delivery with weird cadence. The story may be good - I will never know, I couldn't bear any more after the first three chapters.

The writing is clunky and self-aware, particularly if you are a fan of Lindsay Davis'work, with plot props thrown in before there is properly a plot.

Free or not I couldn't recommend this.

5 people found this helpful

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couldn't finish

couldn't finish, but then I couldn't hardly say I atarted. very odd tone of narrative that I couldn't endure

1 person found this helpful

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Not good

Ruined by verry odd robotic narration. . Couldn't listen to it. which is a first.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jk
  • 02-01-23

A good start

I have seen these books often over the years but only recently started to read or listen to them.

The underlying plots will be familiar to Roman history buffs but will probably be accessible to any reader. Possibly more accessible to a relative newcomer as the storyline is approached quite obliquely and I struggled sometimes to mesh the storyline with my understanding of real events. The quirks of Roman law and society are well explained where necessary but not in a patronising way - just enough.

The characters are well performed and the narration is good after the first few minutes.

I am still not really clear on the basis of the personal enmity between our hero and Clodius but perhaps that’s just me.

Engaging story and lovely ending.

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Too much teaching

I played this at 2x speed, so that the narrator's pacing that everyone else has spoken about wasn't noticeable.

However, my main problem with this book is that the first-person narrator regularly digresses into teaching us about Roman customs. The most egregious, to my mind, is when he has agreed to meet someone at a specific time and there's this whole digressions about sundials, water-clocks and Roman hours being different in winter. At the end of which, the narrating character goes "I'll just guess like everyone else"!

My other major problem with this book is the frequent fourth-wall-breaks. The book begins inside the head of the protagonist, living his life in the Roman republic but then he meets a historical figure who is famous later, turns to the reader and says "I know what you're thinking".
At which point, it transpires that the protagonist is retelling this episode from his youth some 60 years later. And that doesn't work for me because the way humans retell memories is significantly less detailed than if we're a fly inside someone's head.

Also, the protagonist never works out who the killer is. It's thrust upon him when he's confronting the mastermind behind the murders and the killer tries to kill him.
And Roberts seems to think he's writing a new Bond. The sex, the street-fighting and chase scenes, and expecting the mastermind to explain their dastardly plan.

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"You constantly underestimate these people."

I am very fond of anything set in, or about, ancient Rome, and the SPQR series is none of my favourites, which I first read in paperback several years ago. Seeing this, The King's Gambit, available for free in the Audible Plus programme, I decided to revisit it and how glad I am that I did.
Set in the final decades of the Republic when Julius Caesar was still a young rising star in the political world, the main protagonist of the story is also still young and making his slow climb through Roman society, currently serving as a minor official, the Highbury commander of the local vigiles. When a warehouse burns down and the bodies of a foreign merchant and a recently freed gladiatorial slave are found separately murdered, soon to be followed by that of one of the richest man in Rome, Decius investigates, despite warnings to quietly drop the case.
The novel has a slow start but, once past the initial pages, is so rich in details of p!ace and time, it is completely captivating, and the characters very personable, especially a young rogue, Milo, also aiming for power and fame but this time in the street gangs so prevalent in Rome.

A great read, though possibly the least of the stories to come, and well performed by John Lee, who seems to slip effortlessly into the persona of Decius, telling of the events from his perspective of investigator. I'll continue now with the rest of the series.
Recommended.

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Could have been good

I found this an interesting and educative story. However, it’s undermining by the Vaudevillian narration.

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Mispronounced Roman fun!

Very enjoyable! John Lee is, as usual, magnificent.

My sole gripe is that the Latin is mispronounced. It could presumably have been easy to get right. A Decius person is very different to a Dekius person.

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Underwhelming Roman novel, poor narration & plot

Narration dreadful. Completely wrong for the story.
Plot very pedestrian, with little imagination or flair.

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Brilliant

I have listened to the whole series at least 3 times, I love the stories and the characters portrayed!!!!

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  • P. Johnson
  • 21-09-17

Great start to a series

This is the first book I tried in the series and it is a great Sherlock Holmes style detective story - there's a young man from a noble family charged with clearing up crime in a district of ancient Rome, a Greek physician who helps him, dark conspiracy in high places, etc. You get the idea. And you are not sure exactly how it will turn out till the very last page.

16 people found this helpful

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  • John S.
  • 06-04-19

Falco comparison inevitable

Here goes...

If you've read those, 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.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Jpop
  • 21-03-21

Excellent performance King’s Gambit

Historical fiction and intrigue! John Lee is one of my favorite narrators always makes listening a delight!

4 people found this helpful

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  • John Lavette
  • 24-12-20

like a Cadfael story

I enjoyed both the book and the performance very much! John Lee is just tremendous. I recommend his work on the Priest of Bones series. Robert's command of the ancient Roman culture and nomenclature is a real treat!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Karen Marie
  • 15-11-20

A confused, pretentious book.

Free wouldn't cut it to get me to read another by this author. I'd have to be paid quite a bit. Too many better choices in the world.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Hard Scuffle
  • 02-09-20

too wordy

author spend too much time describing rome and not enough developing plot. way too wordy!

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 27-05-21

Well done indeed

After a few dozen pages or the readers fine work it occurred to me that I had no knowledge of civilian police work within the Roman Empire. All I knew, and I knew damn little, was of the military cohorts and military/political leadership of Rome. This was a interesting look at the civilian police work done against the backdrop of political rivalry. There were only a handful of Latin words used to deftly to season the story line.
I enjoyed and recommend to any one good story. Good reader and overall good.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Robert Tipton
  • 28-03-22

A fantastic series!

I stumbled upon this series recently, and have since listened to the first ten books. All have been excellent, both in quality of story and performance. Each offers a more nuanced view of the great historical figures, as well as glimpses of what life was like for more ordinary people of the time.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Susan C. J.
  • 19-02-22

The SPQR Series is Brilliant

This is the first book in the brilliant SPQR series, narrated in the first person by John Lee. This series follows a fictional character,Decius Caecilius Metellus, who is living in Rome during the declining years of the Republic. There are about 14 or 15 novels in this linear series, and I loved every one of them. While sticking to the factual history, we follow Metellus from his youth to his marriage to Julia, a relative of Caesar, and on through his career and his many adventures along the way. We meet Pompey, Caesar, and many other historical persons, as well as hilarious fictional charterers, like his cheeky servant and very stern father. I often found myself laughing out loud at Metellus's ironic comments. Both the author and the reader are wonderful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

1 person found this helpful

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  • 1st World Problems
  • 17-02-22

Freaking Excellent,!

Excellent story and narration. Would recommend this to my friends and family. read it, y'all.

1 person found this helpful