Friday, April 13, 2018

The King's Gambit by John Maddox Roberts; narrated by Simon Vance (1990; 2008)

I've read The King's Gambit before - almost ten years ago.  I like listening to audio versions of books I've read and enjoyed, and I had devoured each book in this series like homemade Christmas fudge.  Steven Saylor - who I also love - wrote a mystery series that takes place in the same time and place (Rome during the time of Julius Caesar).  I wonder if Decius and Gordinanus ever ran into each other snooping around the Subura or the baths?  They are such different kinds of detectives; the books have different flavors too.  Roberts is wittier, lighter; Saylor is darker, grittier.  Yet both have a noir-ish quality too.  Certainly The King's Gambit has some classic noir tropes - a femme fatale, toughs and tough talk, a piece of jewelry serving as a important part of the mystery (a Roman falcon).  The farther into the series you read, the better the books get (or so I recall); Saylor works that way too.  Simon Vance was a great narrator; I've heard his voice before - he narrated Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel which I loved to pieces, in large part due to Vance.  Because the book is an older Decius talking about his younger self in first person - Vance uses his great skill to both voice the older Decius, and then "youthens" his voice slightly (I don't know how else to describe this) to become a younger version of the older self.  To me, that's really quite brilliant narration.  I've practiced in reading aloud - it was my job as a children's librarian for many years - but I don't think I could have pulled off that stunt.  Vance also narrates women's' voices really well too - which I think it difficult for male narrators to prevail at. 

The King's Gambit (SPQR, #1)The King's Gambit by John Maddox Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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 which the plot hinges. I say "noir-ish" because this book also has a lightness and wit about it that's missing in the heaviest of noir fiction. Decius has a sense humor about the whole thing that shines through and makes him a delightful character (this humor is played out even more in later books). For a compare and contrast of two excellent series set in the same time period, try some Steven Saylor. Simon Vance is a superb narrator; he also narrated a kick ass version of Bring Up the Bodies.


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