Veteran Roman investigator Gordianus tries to ease the fears of an obsessed Julius Caesar by locating the cabal that may be plotting against him.
On March 10, 44 B.C.E., ancient Rome is abuzz with the warning that Spurinna the haruspex delivered to Caesar a few weeks ago. Though he’s been frozen out of the emperor’s inner circle, Consul Cicero has a foreboding and seeks the guidance of venerable Gordianus, a retired “Finder,” in ferreting out the identities of possible conspirators. Gordianus, who narrates in a leisurely first person, is intrigued but doesn’t commit until Caesar himself summons him. None other than the scandalous Cleopatra is in attendance when Gordianus agrees to help by discreetly observing suspicious characters. He begins at the colorfully named Salacious Tavern, where the poet Cinna verbally spars with him at length before revealing an ominous message scratched into the sand at his own doorstep: “Beware.” Gordianus’ wife, Bethesda, and his daughter, Diana, become his sounding boards, mostly pouring water on the alarming conspiratorial fires he reveals to them. A visit to Spurinna confirms that he’s no threat to Caesar. But Brutus is another matter entirely. His evasiveness gives Gordianus pause. Nor can he get a read on Antony or Cassius, the latter seen only briefly. Spoiler alert: the novel takes us all the way to March 23.
The 16th volume in Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series (The Triumph of Caesar, 2008, etc.) uses the reader’s foreknowledge of history to create a special kind of suspense. Its slow pace and abundant period detail tantalize, as Gordianus has multiple near misses with the truth.