CATILINA'S RIDDLE by Steven Saylor


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Gordianus the Finder--legman and sleuth for the orator Marcus Tullius Cicero in Roman Blood (1991) and Arms of Nemesis (1992)--gets swept up in the epochal Catiline conspiracy in this ambitious crossover novel. Retired to an Etruscan farm left him by his benefactor Lucius Claudius, Gordianus already has his hands full with Lucius' surviving relatives--neighboring landowners contemptuous of Gordianus and covetous of the farm they regard as rightfully theirs. But Cicero, whose brilliant legal defense of Gordianus' claim won him the farm, wants to collect on the favor and sends his protege Marcus Caelius, who's wormed his way as a spy into the confidence of Cicero's powerful adversary Lucius Sergius Catilina, to ask Gordianus to make the farm available to Catilina as a retreat so that he too can report back to his wily old employer. When Gordianus hesitates, he finds on his land an omen that uncannily seems to echo a riddle of Catilina's about a head on a shrunken body and a body without a head: an anonymous, decapitated corpse. But the mystery surrounding this series of corpses--there'll be two others, both headless--is less important than Gordianus' increasingly complex relation to charismatic Catilina, who not only accepts his bespoken hospitality but seduces the loyalty of his adopted son Meto and wins as well the puzzled respect of Gordianus, who watches Cicero's ascendancy over Catilina with wary ambivalence and ends up fighting quixotically at Meto's side in the climactic battle of Pistoria before finally solving the riddle of the headless corpses. Saylor's fashionably inconclusive reading of the conspiracy throws both antagonists, Cicero and Catilina, into bold relief. The result is a spacious, provocative portrait of a fictional detective confronted with a historical mystery finally beyond his powers.
Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0312385293
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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