Top positive review
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A fascinating book for the historically minded reader
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'.