I do love a good mystery set in the ancient past. And Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, about the adventures of Gordianus the Finder, are among the best. Saylor somehow manages to combine a scholar's eye for detail and accuracy with a fine grasp of storytelling. The books read like an ancient Roman noir.
Rubicon is the seventh book in the series - somehow I can never manage to read such things in the right order - and it's a strong entry, set against the background of the Roman Republic and the increasing enmity between Caesar and Pompey. Civil war looms.
Gordianus the Finder, an ancient Roman private eye, likes to keep out of politics. Life is much safer that way. But he finds himself embroiled in events anyway, when a kinsman of Pompey dies in his garden. For good or ill, Gordianus has earned himself the reputation of 'the most honest man in Rome', and Pompey charges him with finding his kinsman's killer.
Caesar has crossed the Rubicon, Pompey is preparing to flee south, and Rome is awash with rumour. Saylor paints a vivid picture, as people rush to leave the city and fires are lit on Rome's hills to warn of an approaching army. Despite his best intentions, Gordianus finds himself in the thick of it, with his son a trusted aide in Caesar's camp, and his son-in-law taken as hostage by Pompey to ensure compliance.
So he looks for the killer, but first he must find out the secret the dead man was carrying if he is to save his family.
The ending is that rarity in popular fiction - both satisfying and a genuine surprise.
You can expect more Steven Saylor reviews in the coming months!
Rubicon, by Steven Saylor
Published by Constable and Robinson