The year is 63 BC, and Gordianus the Finder unexpectedly achieves the dream of every Roman - a farm in the Etruscan countryside. Vowing to leave behind the corruption and intrigue of Rome, he abandons the city, taking his family with him.
Catilina's Riddle however is different. The political upheaval during the year of Cicero's consulship, culminating in the attempted coup de etat by Catilina, takes the centre stage. This will undoubtedly lessen the appeal of this book to the reader for whom Rome and its turbulent history holds little fascination.
But anyone with interest in, let alone knowledge of, Rome in the 1st century BC will be entirely captivated by this splendid work. While the historical events are portrayed with meticulous accuracy, Saylor shows his tremendous insight into the subject matter by his masterful portrayal of Catilina. This enigmatic figure owes much of his posthumous reputation to the pen of his great adversary Cicero, who had ample reason to show him in not too favourably a light. Saylor tries to extract what might have been underneath the smear, so liberally applied by Cicero's brush, while carefully avoiding to invent or distort historical facts. The result is magnificent. Catilina emerges as a fascinating and tragic figure of great charisma, forced by the fates and his ambitions to play out the role history had set aside for him.
Gordianus' character is also further developed from where he was left of in the prequels, facing some trials of his own during the course of the story. The free flowing narrative, the well-drawn characters and the intriguing story line are all making this book anything but a dry historical work.
Comparisons are always difficult to make and controversial at the best of times, but I would venture so far as to say that this is the best Roman themed historical fiction since Robert Graves' 'I, Claudius'.
It is also a very interesting take on a generally reviled figure, Catiline. Over the centuries, the general consensus seems to be that the man was a monster. The characterization of him in this book is delicate, ambiguous, and ultimately more realistic than the usual demonic portrayals.
If you know a bit about the period and are an intelligent reader, you'll enjoy this.
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