Stephen Saylor is a gifted writer of novels about the Roman Republic. His central character, Gordianus the finder, is by the time of this novel, long in the tooth— celebrating his 66th birthday, and his days of being the ancient equivalent of Sherlock Holmes have mostly passed. Indeed, for most of this novel Gordianus seems to be in a fog about things that are going on around him— he looks but he does not see, or as Sherlock would have– he sees, but does not perceive, that is until two dramatic deaths jolt our sleuth out of his fog and general ARP lethargy. This novel in the series has a very slow pace. Like Gordianus, one is lulled almost into complacency, and in any case— what suspense could there be about a story line all too familiar— the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, some four decades B.C., before the birth of Christ. Yes, it is quite pleasant to read about the more retired and tired Gordianus and his domestic life with Bethesda and Diana, and Davus and Meto, the aide de camp of Caesar, and the adopted son of Gordianus. And yes, it is a nice surprise to find Caesar turning Gordianus into a togaed Senator. But still such a story isn’t really a page turner (and it goes on almost 400 pages), that is until all sorts of mayhem breaks loose in the wake of Caesar’s stabbing at the meeting of the Senate (et tu Brute), and other deaths follow that touch Gordianus’ life profoundly. As it turns out— in this novel the tension is not in the long pulling back of the bow— but in the release of the arrow that strikes an unexpected target. Then, the game is afoot, and then we get our old friend Gordianus unveiling secrets of the human heart, and solving an unforgettable crime involving the famous ancient elegaic poet Cinna. But since I am not Cinnacle, I shall not provide spoilers about the remarkable ending to the story. I’ll let you read it for yourself.
In some ways, this story reminds me of the recent movie about the elderly and retired Sherlock Holmes who solves one last case, and saves one last life. It turns out the brain of Sherlock’s ancient equivalent had not entirely gone off the boil. And you will not go wrong in reading this rich and detailed story of ancient Roman life, and its mores and customs. But if you want a more consistently exciting Gordianus tale, I’d say read A Mist of Prophecies.