Steven Saylor- Roma sub Rosa
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I've almost finished catching up with this series. I started A Gladiator Dies Only Once this morning.
Gordianus is a private detective in the last days of the Roman Republic. The series starts with Roman Blood, set in the dictatorship of Sulla when Cicero hires Gordianus to investigate background information for one of Cicero's first important trials. I read it two years ago during the last year of my undergrad. studies, when the Latin professor recommended it as a supplement when we translated the defense speech Cicero gave for that trial.
Each of the novels in the series is built around some major event in Roman history, so the time between the books decreases as the series goes on and the rise of Caesar begins. Two books of short stories backtrack to fill in the time in between Roman Blood and the second novel, Arms of Nemesis.
All of the books are great historical fiction, but in some of them the mystery is a little more of an afterthought. In The Judgment of Caesar, the murder case isn't introduced until the last third of the book, and is resolved well before the conclusion of the action. However, there is a certain amount of mystery just in the political intrigue.
For a while I thought that the narrative would eventually be transferred from Gordianus to his older son, who took over the family detective business officially several books ago. However, Saylor doesn't seem to be showing any signs of that, since Eco would probably be a more central character if that were intended. I just hope that Gordianus lives at least as long as Cicero; Cicero's rise to fame paralleled Gordianus' accumulation of important clients, and his death would be a fitting last story. But then, I have a much softer spot for Cicero than Gordianus does.
I also very much enjoy the Roma sub Rosa series, though I just couldn't seem to "get into" A Gladiator Dies Only Once. Probably my fault, as Gordianus is usually a wonderful read. And you're right; the history is often more exciting than the mystery, although I like those too.
I wasn't as blown away, though, with Roma, his epic historical. For that type of history, I like Edward Rutherfurd who wrote Sarum and London. Have you read it (Roma) yet?
I think I'm liking A Gladiator Dies Only Once more than I liked The House of the Vestals. Maybe it's because coming back to Sertorius in the different stories makes them more connected, and gives it a little more of the feel of the full novels than the other collection?
I haven't read Roma yet, and I'm not sure I'm going to. An awful lot of Roma sub Rosa readers seem to think it wasn't up to par. I think I may need to read more Robert Harris.
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