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Catilina's Riddle [Paperback]

Steven Saylor
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 April 1998
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.

Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson Publishing; 1st UK Paperback Edition edition (30 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1854878891
  • ISBN-13: 978-1854878892
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,148,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Saylor is the author of EMPIRE: THE NOVEL OF IMPERIAL ROME, a follow-up to the international bestseller ROMA: THE NOVEL OF ANCIENT ROME. These two epic novels comprise a multi-generational saga that spans the first 1200 years of the city, from Iron Age trading post to the height of empire under Hadrian.

Steven is also the author of the ROMA SUB ROSA series of historical mysteries featuring Gordianus the Finder, set in the ancient Rome of Cicero, Caesar, and Cleopatra. The latest book in the series is THE SEVEN WONDERS, a prequel that follows the 18-year-old Gordianus on his journey to the Seven Wonders of the World.


Outside the Roman books are two novels set in Steven's native Texas. A TWIST AT THE END is based on America's first recorded serial murders, which terrorized Austin, Texas in 1885. The chief protagonist is young Will Porter, who later became famous as O. Henry. HAVE YOU SEEN DAWN? is a contemporary thriller set in a small Texas town not unlike the one where Steven grew up.

Steven's books have been published in 21 languages, and book tours have taken him across the United States, England, and Europe. He has appeared as an expert on Roman life on The History Channel, and has spoken at numerous college campuses, The Getty Villa, and the International Conference on the Ancient Novel.

Steven was born in Texas in 1956 and graduated with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and Classics. He divides his time between homes in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas. "If I could have another home," he says, "it would definitely be in London, my favorite big city in the world." When not using his brain, he likes to keep in shape running, swimming, and lifting weights.

Product Description


"A sweeping and marvellously evocative story, with page after page of authentic detail" Booklist "It is Saylor's particular skill to sketch the political intrigues of the time with great authenticity... the sense that murky, terrible things are moving secretly beneath the surface of a fairly benign exterior increases in this brilliant novel" San Francisco Review of Books" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A wonderfully re-jacketed edition from Saylor's bestselling Gordianus series set in Ancient Rome. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The entire 'Gordianus' series by Saylor has to be commended as an inspiring blend of very accurate history and captivating murder mysteries. Catilina's Riddle however takes a special place within this series. While all the books deal with important political events in the last years of the decaying Old Republic, featuring all the well known and quite a few of the lesser players of the final Act of Res Publica Romana, the detective element of the books is very much in the foreground.
This makes the series very readable and exciting even for people with no or very little knowledge and interest in Roman history.
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tale of Catilina 9 April 2007
The Roman private detective Gordianus, called the Finder, seeks to flee the dangers and the corruption of Rome and retires with his family to a farm in the Etruscan countryside. But Rome won't let him go: his benefactor, now arch conservative consul Cicero presses Gordianus to become one of his spies in order to bring down an alleged criminal conspirator, the radical reformer Lucius Sergius Catilina. When Gordianus tries to refuse this dubious request, a headless body turns up on his farm. At first, Gordianus tries to solve the riddle of this "Nemo" (lat. for Nobody) and to steer clear of both the Ciceronian and Catilina's party. But soon, the powerful Roman elite leaves the hounded Catilina and his desperate supporters no way out except for armed insurrection, and Gordianus' family becomes drawn into this tragic civil and military confrontation.

Please note that "Catilina's Riddle" is not in the first line a mystery novel. It is a political thriller, a human tragedy and a colorful panoramic view of Roman society and politics that seems disturbingly up-to date. The book starts out slowly, so be prepared to give it time. It is, however, not too long. In fact, "Catilina's Riddle" ought to be longer than it is, because Saylor regretfully neglects to discribe in proper detail the social misery, poverty, enslavement and sheer human desperation that led to the uprising of Catilina. The historical sources about Catilina's conspiracy are very scarse, very biased and therefore highly contradictory in themselves. Cicero's speeches against Catilina are not much more than poisonous invectives of a conservative statesman against a popular reformer, and Sallust draws on them heavily in his book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, Superb, A Masterpiece 16 Feb 2006
By A Customer
I disagree with the other reviewer. This is actually one of the best in the series. I agree that it starts slowly and it can be difficult to get into it. However, the historial detail is superb and the story ultimately one of the most rewarding of the series.
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Gordianus hopes that his new farm offers an escape from the intrigues of Rome. But one of the most infamous plots reaches out to draw him in and he and his family are put at dire risk. This is evident in the headless bodies which appear on the farm of Gordianus The Finder.
Gordianus becomes a pawn in a power struggle and even goes to the war with his maturing son, Meto.
The reader must struggle in the forum to hear the words of Catalina and the great mob orator, Cicero. But back on the farm, things are becoming more dangerous.
Steven Saylor has taken the known facts on the Cataline conspiracy and woven a human and humorous tale around those facts. Add in the smallest and most fascinating details of Roman life from food and fashion, slavery of some and the voting rights of others and you have a fascinating read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roman Republic comes to life 15 Mar 2002
By A Customer
As a student of ancient Greek and Latin laguage and culture I must simply say that this book is brilliant! Sure, a great mystery novel for any reader, but when you have translated Cicero's speech and Sallustius' "Coniuratio Catilinae" yourself and have studied the history of the Roman Republic, it is a thrill to see it all come to life on these pages by the hand of Steven Saylor! The historic and academic accuracy with which he writes is highly admirable, as is his gripping style of storytelling. All I can say: read this book, especially if you have somewhat studied the Roman Republic, but if you haven't, this is still one of the best mystery books you'll ever have read!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Making history live!
Brilliant, it draws you into Gordianus's world of intrigue! Read the previous books in the series to live the history.
Published 1 month ago by A. Joss
4.0 out of 5 stars Love these books
I downloaded this after reading Gordianos The Finder Omnibus - I enjoyed the story but like other reviewers found towards the last third of the book there was a lot of politics... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mystery lover
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
Good but not as compelling as others in the series. Adherence to the historical events adds another level to the narrative that brings Rome to life.
Published 2 months ago by Phil
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather too much politics in this one
Although the basic story is quite good, it is interwoven with long-winded political intrigue for which I was not in the mood. I found it heavy going.
Published 7 months ago by Nautilous
5.0 out of 5 stars Steven Saylor Books.
Like all of his books in this series, you need to start from the first novel so you can follow the theme. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Jo
4.0 out of 5 stars not so good as previous
After Wilbur Smith this story is rather slow with a little too much detail of discussions. The story moves along rather slowly. But is well written.
Published 9 months ago by John Eacott
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical novel with detective twist
Steven Saylor must be one of the best writers about Ancient Rome - as Gordianus the Finder tries to keep out of politics, Saylor gives you a real taste for his life - you can... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Susan Russell-Gough
5.0 out of 5 stars Rome resurrected
No greater praise than my title. Saylor manages to mix a suspenseful thriller with a painstaking and accurate reconstruction of ancient Rome. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Samuel Romilly
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fab book
I brought the books in paperback version initially, now I've got them on my kindle. Great story lines and a rip roaring read, you feel you're part of Roman history. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Lesley
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite up to the usual standard of the series
I am a real fan of this series, so this instalment was a little disappointing. There are two strands to the story; the one involving the Cataline conspiracy is interesting, and... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Simon Binning
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