CATEGORY: HISTORICAL MYSTERY
In general, I like historical mysteries as a break from my steady diet of hard-boiled and noir type detective novels. I especially like mysteries set in ancient Rome. There's something so comfortingly familiar with the Roman setting, yet so distant. When a fictional Roman laments how dangerous walking in the streets at night is these days, I can only smile and think about walking around in Anacostia. Some things never change.
Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder is a central figure in a series of novels set in Ancient Rome, during a pivotal time in history-- The Marius-Sulla Civil War, the Spartacus Revolt, and the Founding of the Empire by Julius Caesar. It's a great background for murder-- one which SHOULD emphasize the historical events going on around the murder.
Fortunately, Saylor weaves in 'current' events rather deftly in Roman Blood (note bene: it's my first reading of one of his Gordianus novels. I don't have anything to compare it to). Gordianus, a freeman occupied as a "finder" or detective type, exercises the arts of deduction far in advance of Sherlock Holmes' day. In Roman Blood, Gordianus is called upon (by Cicero, no less) to solve a notorius murder (a paricide, which is evidently the worst crime in the Roman pantheon). The hook is that Gordianus must accomplish this feat in eight days-- all of this with the last days of Sulla transpiring in the background. In terms of historical detail, it's a great book. In terms of characterization, I was not that impressed. Gordianus seems a little flat to me-- he has none of the foibles and juicy background that I've seen in Falco (from Lindsay Davis' similar Roman era mysteries set in the time of Vespasian, of course. I'm sorry, the comparison has to be made).
Still, the plot had many fine twists and turns, and proceeded in workmanlike fashion. I enjoyed the bits about Rome and culture-- apparently Saylor is something of a scholar.
Summary: I'll read more from Saylor, though I don't think I'll invest in hardcovers. Not bad, but not great either.