ffb: Roman Blood

this is the 162nd in my series of forgotten or seldom read book posts

Roman Blood by Steven Saylor, Ballantine 1993, paperback, mystery – 1st Gordianus the Finder

Roman_Blood_coverPerhaps not forgotten, but worthy of renewed attention, this is the first of the acclaimed series, one of the best historical mystery series written today.

This was the first of Saylor’s novels I read, though I had read a short story by him, featuring this character, in the first Crime Through Time anthology. That story was enjoyable enough to prompt me to buy a copy of this and the second in the series, which then languished on the shelf for a considerable period of time until some whim or instinct send me to seek them out.

Gordianus is commissioned by Cicero, a young advocate who has taken the defense of a man accused of patricide, one of the worst crimes a Roman citizen can commit. The facts must be uncovered. Did Sextus Roscius murder his father? Certainly he hated him enough to do the deed, or rather to have it done, for the murder took place in Rome and Sextus was in the country at the time.

Gordianus digs, and travels to the country and digs some more, and visits the murdered man’s haunts in Rome, his brothel, the site of the murder. What role does the young whore Elena play in the puzzle, what role the violent cousins? For that matter what role the beloved ex-slave of the dictator Sulla himself?

Well written, enjoyable, with enough history and description of the city, people and times to inform without becoming didactic, this was an enjoyable read.

[addendum] Since I wrote that original review fourteen or more years ago, I’ve now read all of the series but the latest two, and I’m still pleased with each book. If you like historical mysteries, these are some of the very best.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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12 Responses to ffb: Roman Blood

  1. I’m a fan of these historical mysteries, too. I have the entire series but only read about half the titles. Now I want to drop everything and read some Steven Saylor! Nice review!

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks, George. These really are superior historical mysteries, and Gordianius is a great character.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I generally prefer (other than Cadfael) my historicals set in the 19th and 20th Centuries. I find it hard to get involved with all the Roman mysteries, no matter how well done. That’s just me, not anything about the quality of the books. It just isn’t my cup of tea.

  4. Richard says:

    Jeff, I agree with that except, as you said, Cadfael but I add these Saylor books. I consider them straight forward mysteries set in Roman times rather than Roman mysteries.

  5. Hum, I was only vaguely aware of these books but this makes me want to take a closer look. I don’t read a lot of historical mysteries but like that type best in the mystery genre.

  6. John says:

    I like this character. And I enjoyed these books a lot more than the Falco books by Lindsey Davis. Saylor knows his ancient history and made all of Ancient Rome accessible and fascinating. My favorite of the series is CATILINA’S RIDDLE. I think he makes some astute and subtle analogies to American politics in his books. I do tend to find a lot of analogies in most of the fiction I read whether the writer intended them or not.

  7. Richard, this historical mystery series looks very interesting. I’ll try and obtain a copy of the book.

  8. tracybham says:

    I admit to a bias against Roman historical mysteries, too early for me also. But with all the praise here, I should try the series.

  9. Gerard says:

    It’ a great series. Saylor’s ROMA is also real good. ROMA has Saylor theorizing how Roman myths evolved over a 1,000 years.

  10. Richard says:

    John, yes, good observation. I like CATILINA’S RIDDLE also, but they really are all good.

  11. Richard says:

    Tracy, try one, either this or the second one. They aren’t very long.

  12. Richard says:

    Prashant, this series has many books, so you should be able to find several. I like the early ones, and there is also a short story collection.

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