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The first five novels in Stephen Saylor’s “Roma Sub Rosa” saga span almost 30 years, from when Gordianus the Finder met Cicero the Advocate (“Roman Blood,” set in 80 BC) to the murder of Clodius (“Murder on the Appian Way,” 52 BC). Gordianus rubbed shoulders with historical bigshots while he solved crimes, got married, acquired children, and watched as the Roman republic crumbled. In "Rubicon," the sixth book of the series, he (and we) reach the era of outright civil war--early 49 BC, as Julius Caesar and his legions “cross the Rubicon” in defiance of the Roman senate and its leader, Pompey Magnus (“the great,” a title Pompey apparently bestowed on himself).
“Rubicon” opens with Pompey’s nephew found murdered in the atrium of Gordianus’ own home. “Pompey is going to be mightily pissed,” moans Gordianus, now 60 and retired. He has tried to avoid taking sides in the civil war, despite the fact that his son Meto is Caesar’s close adviser and literary amanuensis. Gordianus the Finder has given way to Gordianus the Father (and grandfather), paterfamilias of a unique family that he loves deeply and is desperate to protect. But of course the startling murder drags him into the thick of things. Pompey, about to lead his own army against Caesar, takes Gordianus’ son-in-law hostage and will return him only when Gordianus finds the killer.
Especially considering that it’s one of the shorter entries in the series, the plot of “’Rubicon” is complex. There are secret love affairs and coded messages and disguises and blackmail and a climactic battle. The ending reveals the killer but opens up a whole new mystery that will play out over the next few books.
The Roman Republic-into-Empire era epitomizes the curse “may you live in interesting times.” Saylor’s books portray the uncertainty, violence, and chaos and its effects on ordinary citizens with verve and scholarship. The parallel but somewhat less earnest SPQR books by John Maddox Roberts feature the same timeframe and events, starring a young aristocrat who is prone to stumble across murders. Both series are treats for the classical history lover.
In terms of audiobooks, it’s unfortunate that the early Gordianus novels were *extremely* poorly narrated. Ralph Cosham takes over the narration for Rubicon and later books, and I enjoy him (once I get over wondering how Inspector Armand Gamache--a trademark Cosham character--got from modern Quebec to ancient Rome). The SPQR books are narrated by Simon Vance and John Lee, both great old hands at this type of material. We who are about to listen salute you!
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is probably the worst Gordianus mystery I have read. It takes place during the civil war between Pompey and Caesar and deals with the flight of Pompey from Brundisium.
I found it quite boring in places. First of all this is not really a mystery. The murder which starts the book is immediately solvable and thus the murder is unimportant. The real mystery, which we don't learn much about until the end of the book, is whether Meto is in a plot to assassinate Caesar.
What consumes the bulk of the book is the tale of Gordianus traveling to Brundisium and getting inside Pompey’s camp. Along the way he has Tiro, Cicero's Scribe, as a travelling companion and he stops at Cicero's villa to talk to him. There is the obligatory attack on the Appian Way by bandits and the capture of the travelers by Mark Antony.
Gordianus is most concerned of finding his son Meto in Caesar's camp but he gets no chance to talk to him. He must get to Pompey's camp to save his son-in-law Davus, and then escape from Pompey's clutches and return to Rome. Pompey’s escape from Brundisium is probably the most interesting part of the whole book.
Personally I have always been lukewarm about Gordianus as a detective. I always thought the best book was "Murder on the Appian Way". Gordianus is a little too much of a goody two shoes to fit into the Roman world. He pales by comparison with Caecilius Metellus in SPQR. However, if you like Gordianus you will probably like this book.
The narrator is not too bad but certainly better than Scott Brick in the earlier books. However, he is not in the class win Simon Vance or other notable narrators.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful