Tuesday 19 May 2009

Finished Rubicon, the 7th book in Steven Saylor's Rom Sub Rosa series. These are detective novels featuring a Roman private eye called Gordianus the finder and set against the always compelling backdrop of the last years of the Roman Republic and the ascension of Caesar. I've read a few of the short stories before, but this was the first full-length novel I've read. It's quite a ride. A relative of Pompey is found murdered in Gordianus' garden. Pompey entrusts Gordianus with the task of finding out whodunnit, taking Gordianus' son in law along with his as a bit of leverage to make sure he complies. Caesar has crossed the Rubicon and is marching on Rome; Pompey flees Rome. A major clash between their forces is expected any day. Against this tense background, and in company with a spy who works for the famous orator Cicero, Gordianus has to unravel the mystery and make his way across war-torn Italy to, as the blurb-writers would put it, cross his own private Rubicon. Well-written stuff, competent and at times quite awesome. Engaging characters, convicing period detail and a certain world-weary perspective, via the aging protagonist, that somehow goes well with the background action, which bursts spectacularly into the foreground at time. I like this variety of historical fiction that's written closely betweeen the lines of the official record, a bit like Tim Powers' secret histories, and the cameos by famous people of the day are handled extremely well.

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