Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book review - "Catilina's Riddle" by Steven Saylor

The third installment of Steve Saylor’s series featuring Gordianus the Finder, Catilina’s Riddle, reads more of a history lesson on Ancient Rome as opposed to a whodunit. Perhaps Saylor feels by giving what would be dry, laborious reading material to most people a mysterious subplot, history comes a bit more interesting.

Gordianus has retired to the country, with his wife, daughter Diana and son Meto, glad to leave the politics and danger of Rome far behind.  His son Eco has stayed behind and has taken over his father’s business.  However, with Gordianus, intrigue and danger are never far away.  The country is not as relaxing as it should be and his neighbors are anything but neighborly.

Soon, he receives a message from a friend asking for a huge favor.  Cicero is asking him to host Catilina, a controversial candidate running for consulship in Rome. 

The election and the politics surrounding it are the basis for Saylor’s novel.  Cicero makes flowery speeches, in which he spins wild tales of Catilina’s conspiracies and his plans for bloody revolts.  But how much of those tales are true?  Saylor paints a humane picture of Catilina, as seen from Gordianus’ point of view. 

The mystery portion of the book, Gordianus keeps finding headless bodies on his property, takes a back seat to Roman history.  Saylor recreates Cicero’s speeches, Catilina’s speeches, everybody’s speeches.  At times it gets tedious, because one wonders where these pages and pages are taking the story.  The conclusion of who’s been leaving decapitated corpses on Gordianus’ property almost seems like an afterthought. 

If you enjoy ancient Roman history, you will enjoy this book.

I give it 3 Jupiter’s lightning bolts (~~~) out of 5.

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