Like her ill-fated namesake who prophesied the fall of Troy and her own death, the Roman seer who called herself Cassandra profited little from her gift of second sight, reflects Gordianus the Finder as the meager funeral procession he’s organized approaches her cremation site. Four days earlier, as the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey raged throughout the city, Cassandra had stumbled into his arms in a local market, gasping that she’d been poisoned, but died before she could identify the woman who killed her. Now, at the site of her virtually anonymous last rites, Gordianus suddenly sees some wholly unexpected mourners: the wives of Caesar, Marc Antony, and Gordianus’ old mentor Cicero; Antony’s actress lover Cytheris; Fausta, daughter of the late dictator Sulla and wife of the fugitive killer Milo; Fulvia, widow of Clodius, the rival Milo murdered; and Clodius’ sister Clodia. It would be impossible to imagine a more stellar lineup of suspects in all imperial Rome. Urged on by his daughter Diana’s threat to investigate in his stead and by his own hidden relationship with Cassandra, Gordianus intersperses interviews with each of the seven mourners with flashbacks to his meetings with the prophet until her pivotal role in the crisis threatening the empire becomes clear.
Though it certainly is worth waiting for the payoff, Gordianus’ ninth case packs more than its share of unassimilated history that’s hard for a mere novelist to top. Newcomers to the series are advised to start, for example, with Last Seen in Massilia (2000).