A historical murder mystery set in 80 BC in the Roman Republic. Can be read as a stand-alone but it’s the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.

102720

Publisher: Minotaur books

Publication year: 1991
Format: print

Page count: 380

Gordianus is called the Finder because he’s an investigator. He’s a Roman citizen but hasn’t inherited wealth, so must work for his living. A young slave comes to him early in the morning, asking him to go and meet with the slave’s master, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Gordianus has never heard of the young man who is just starting his career as an orator and a lawyer. So after dallying in his house for a while, curing his hangover, Gordianus and the slave, Tiro, head to Cicero’s house. Cicero has just accepted his first law case, involving a suspected patricide. Gordianus isn’t too keen to get mixed in such a case but he needs the money so he takes the case.

He inspects the place where the father was killed, interviews different kinds of people, walks up and down Rome itself, and even makes a short trip to the countryside. The case turns out to be quite a bit more complex than he thought at first.

The book has excellent descriptions of Rome and the culture at the time. Slaves are more numerous than free men. While the wealthy take shelter from the hot sun, the slaves toil away, doing all the real work. Saylor doesn’t sweep away the slavery but has ”good” owners and also the ones who berate and beat their slaves whenever they want. We also get to know that slaves can testify at court, but only under torture. Gordianus himself owns a half-Egyptian female slave, Bethesda, and he sleeps with her several times. She’s depicted as pretty headstrong woman so I guess Saylor implies that the sex is consensual on her part, too. But since she’s a slave, she can’t choose.

The mystery itself is pretty complicated and forces Gordianus to go around and meet all sorts of people, showcasing Rome and its people, both poor and rich. Gordianus lives near the Subura, the slums, and he goes through it several times.

I mostly enjoyed this one and enjoyed the historical detail, although the writing style is pretty dry. Interestingly enough, the mystery is based on Cicero’s first real case.