Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop All Amazon Fashion Summer Savings Up to 25% Off Cloud Drive Photos Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Oasis Shop now Shop now Learn more

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars38
4.2 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 12 May 2004
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.
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'.
0Comment|17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 31 May 2012
This was my fifth book in the Gordianus the Finder series and the most disappointing so far. Even a dead body turning up in the first half of the story did little to move the plot, such as it was at this stage, along. Plenty of interesting information about family life on a farm and the politics of Ancient Rome but little in the way of drama. The second half of the book provides a few more corpses and the development of the long awaited storyline so things start to move along a bit. The 'book' (can we still say book if it's on Kindle?)comes to a satisfactory conclusion as far as Gordianus and his family is concerned and eventually the mystery of the dead bodies is neatly explained although by now I wasn't all that interested. Steven Saylor has obviously put a tremendous amount of research into this series of stories and is clearly an expert on the period. Sometimes intriguing background material, no mattter how interesting, overwhelms everything else and I think this has happened a bit too often in 'Catalina's Riddle.' Having said that I'm still a fan and have downloaded 'The Venus Throw' which I look forward to reading with enthusiasm, largely due to the enjoyment I experienced from the first four Gordianus books I read.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 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. Many writers that tried to tackle this historical material seem to accept Cicero's statements at face value, completely missing the fact that these speeches are not honest fact-based narratives but sharp political weapons that were intended to destroy Catilina's name and career, to drive him out of Rome and ultimately to get him killed. The results of wide-spread trust into Cicero's intergity are stories told straight from Cicero's papers, keeping in line with his political stance, including all the defamations and the slander that the anscient Roman orator heaped on his opponents.

Saylor's book is a wonderful suprise. The author does not only masterfully tell a tale that is riveting, powerful and moving but goes to great lengths to reconstruct the historical reality. When trying to put together a coherent version of the events of 63 BC, one must perforce arrive at the conclusions Saylor seems to have arrived at: that Catilina's cause was most just, and his alleged crimes probably never took place. Saylor's great historical novel moves one to tears by giving a glimpse of the truth.
11 comment|7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 16 February 2006
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.
0Comment|14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 15 March 2002
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!
0Comment|12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 December 2011
This is the third in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, the mystery/crime novels set in ancient Rome, featuring Gordianus the Finder. This one is set some nine years after the previous book, and Gordianus has moved to a farm north of Rome that was bequeathed to him by an old friend. Unfortunately, that old friend's family are not too happy that an outsider has been given the property, or that that outsider enlisted the help of Cicero to fight his legal battles. Into this mix, Cicero then asks Gordianus to spy on his enemy, Catalina, by allowing the man to stay at the farm during his frequent travels to the north, where he is allegedly conspiring to overthrow the senate and bring Rome to its knees. When Gordianus seems reluctant to participate in Cicero's plan, he finds a headless body on his property.

I thought this was another great read from Saylor. It's not as deep or exciting a mystery as the previous two books, but Saylor weaves real history throughout the novel with a lot of skill. It's maybe not as subtle as in the previous books. Several of Cicero's speeches are repeated here, and one particular event needs a huge pinch of salt to swallow, but the writing and characters are so good that it's easy to forgive. Saylor says that his main mission with this book was to provide a fictional account of Catalina where he was neither villified nor deified, and I think he's succeeded. Catalina comes across as a magnetic presence, but flawed in many ways, and the way in which Gordianus is drawn to him and yet dislikes him is really well handled.

Many of the events in this book were also in Robert Harris's Lustrum, which I read last year. That book used Cicero as its protagonist, so it was interesting to see it all presented in a subtly different light here. I can highly recommend both books.
22 comments|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 March 2013
No greater praise than my title. Saylor manages to mix a suspenseful thriller with a painstaking and accurate reconstruction of ancient Rome. On more than one occasion I have thoght some assertion absurd only to check it and find out it was true. This is a very intelligent book, even dialogues with such literary luminaries as Cicero are convincing. It is a feast for classicists but the lay reader will find much to amuse and instruct.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 April 2012
All the while Gordianus is being his usual Finder self, this book is an excellent read - exciting and captivating. However, while he's discussing Roman politics and society with the various other characters, the asumption seems to be that the reader has absolutely no knowledge whatever of the subject, the result being that the dialogue is mind-bogglingly simple, almost childlike. In the face of this, Gordianus's image as a 2000-years-ahead-of-his-time messianic embodiment of perfection isn't credible. Also, during such dialogue it is painfully obvious that this book is a modern creation.
If you like Gordianus you'll have a good time reading this - I give it four stars in spite my criticism - but I wouldn't recommend it as a first foray into the series. My first Gordianus books were the short story collections The House of the Vestals and A Gladiaor Only Dies Once, and I recommend those to anyone not yet familiar with The Finder.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 11 June 2014
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 involved, whether by the senate or merely discussed between family members and found it a bit distracting at that point, but the story was good and still worth 4 stars as the reader needed to understand why and how these issues came about. I found myself sometimes not understanding Gordianos and why he did - or didn't do - things in his normal manner and also his lack of understanding, at times, with his second son Meto. This book is not as much a detective story as the previous ones, but there was still some mysteries to be solved. Looking forward to reading the next book.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 15 November 2012
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 takes a slightly different viewpoint from traditional histories of that event. The other interwoven story did not really grip me at all, and the eventual outcome seemed false and artificial. It almost seemed the author knew what he wanted to achieve in the end, but had to find a way of getting there. For me he hasn't really succeeded.
It is still a cut above most of the other Roman novels around, but I hope the next instalment will be better.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse