Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, the generals fighting over control of Rome have left a legacy of unending strife. In this round, Julius Caesar, returning victorious from Spain in 49 b.c., lays siege to the walled city of Massilia—known to moderns as Marseilles—whose inhabitants depend on Caesar’s great rival Pompey for relief. And once again, Gordianus the Finder is in the thick of the struggle for the Empire, this time searching for his adopted son Meto, a onetime intimate of Caesar’s (and, rumor has it, his amanuensis and lover as well) now alleged to be a traitor hiding within Massilia’s walls—that is, if he’s still alive. Sneaking into the city under siege, Gordianus and his brawny son-in-law Davus are in exactly the right spot to see a woman fall to her death from legendary Sacrifice Rock, though the witnesses can’t agree whether she fell or was pushed—and their impressions will turn out to be predictably misleading in other ways as well. As the usual political intrigue swirls around him, Gordianus (Rubicon, 1999, etc.) is drawn into the case of the dead woman by her link to the Apollonides, the administrator in charge of the city, and the man on whose goodwill Gordianus depends most directly. But Saylor never forgets about Meto, who turns out to play a crucial role in both the history and the mystery.
In this exemplary eighth installment, Saylor links the case at hand to his larger concerns, the ongoing domestic saga of Gordianus’ family and the fate of Rome, with matchless elegance.