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on April 15, 2004
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor was well written and well researched. Saylor was able to blend his fictional writing with factual information in a very interesting way. Being the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa series, this book has led me to start reading the rest of the series. Roman Blood blends action and mystery. Gordianus the finder is a very intriguing character that will make you think more than you think you should. Roman Blood is a great book to sit down and read to. Its entertaining, but also, if you are interested in ancient Rome, it will give great information on everyday life and Roman government. Also, the ending is a doozy.
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on November 27, 2003
Gordianus the Finder --- a Roman detective with a lust for the truth, hard drinking, and his slave-girl Bathsheba --- is hired by Cicero to unearth the facts behind a mysterious killing. Gentleman farmer Sextus Roscius is accused of killing his estranged father, but the truth of the matter may reveal corruption not only in the man's own family, but in the noblest and richest families of Rome; the murder may involve even the dictator Sulla himself. This is a superb historical detective novel. Gordianus is a Roman Matt Scudder, a hard-living survivor with no special interests or abilities except a deep need for the truth and, possibly, a liking for rough justice. He's an empathetic everyman with foibles and flaws, always a must in a detective. Saylor's scholarship seems excellent; his Rome is vivid and picturesque. You get a sharp portrait of Roman life in 80 BC, from the street gutters to the gangs to the games of trigon to the slave economy. Cicero in particular is brought to life in fine detail. The book's plot is convoluted and opaque, but in a satisfying way. All together, a promising start to a mystery series with a very solid historical background.
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on November 14, 2003
I have probably read only a handful of detective fiction in my entire middle-aged life. The genre never really appealed to me. But I've always been crazy about the Roman Empire, being a life-long fan of movie epics like SPARTACUS, QUO VADIS, BEN HUR and CLEOPATRA. I got a big kick out of ROMAN BLOOD. It's a detective story set in ancient Rome. Gordianus the Finder is a wonderful character. Who knows whether there ever was such a thing as a "finder" back in those days? It doesn't really matter. In Gordianus, Steven Saylor has created a brilliant device that allows the reader, through a myriad of interesting details, to feel that he actually IS in ancient Rome. When we first encounter Gordianus, he lives in a crumbling villa with his slave woman Bethesda (whom he eventually manumits and marries) and has a hangover from too much wine the previous evening. ROMAN BLOOD is the case that starts Gordianus on an illustrious career as a Roman private eye, because this is the case on which he meets Cicero. Their association coincides with Cicero's rise from obscurity to celebrity. Gordianus' exploits are set against actual historical events and over the multi-volume series Gordianus matures physically and emotionally, prospers in his career, marries and has children (who grow up to become Roman citizens). This all occurs during what may have been Rome's most turbulent period, when the Republic was supplanted by the Empire. ROMAN BLOOD is highly entertaining historical fiction. I learned a lot from it, too.
I'm no judge of mysteries. I have read few other mysteries to compare it to. Whodunit did surprise me, however. I really enjoyed ROMAN BLOOD and have read the next three volumes in this series. I usually save these books for when I have to travel. They're good paperbacks to read while waiting in an airport or flying long distances. Time passes very quickly in Gordianus' company. It's not wasted time, either. There's a lot to ponder in these books.
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on September 11, 2003
Roman Blood, the first of Steven Saylor's Sub Rosa series of novels, introduces Gordianus the Finder and his family, fictional characters who become increasingly memorable and claim a hold on our affections and sympathetic concern as they interact throughout the series with many famous historical characters, Julius Caesar, Pompey The Great, Marc Antony, Cicero, and Spartacus being the best known. The lawlessness of a great city - Rome - without a police force; the brutal treatment of slaves as chattel; the political intrigues and assassinations - all are faithfully portrayed in historically accurate and authentic detail. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these novels is their overlay of modern liberal values represented by the fictional narrator, who manumits (frees) and marries his Egyptian concubine, Bethesda, adopts a street urchin and a slave as his sons, understands and accepts the independence and sovereignty of women, reveres and serves the truth as much as Diogenes, and evinces a genuine religious piety. The characters are memorably drawn and individuated, and the finder's daughter, whose patronymic name Gordiana is shortened to Diana, is arguably the most appealing daughter in literature since Cordelia. Like all works of a master spirit, these books provide an edifying education, with recognizable allusions to ancient as well as Elizabethan literature, and they contain flashes of sardonic humor appropriate to the anatomy of the human condition that they reveal. They are among the very best of modern recreations of that peculiar combination of greatness and squalor that was ancient Rome.
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on June 21, 2002
I was a little disappointed by this book as it had been highly recommended to me by someone who knew I enjoyed Lindsey Davis's Falco books. Given that Mr. Saylor chose to follow Ms Davis's lead by also setting his detective books in Ancient Rome with a private eye as the central character, it's impossible to read this without making comparisons (conscious or unconscious) to the Falco books which are an extremely tough act to follow. Mr. Saylor has certainly done his homework on Ancient Rome and the historical detail is excellent, but I found his characters rather two-dimensional and lifeless. I can cope with most of the characters being essentially unlikable (the Romans really weren't very nice people) but I think one needs to be able to feel more of a connection to the private eye protagonist and despite the story being told in Gordianus's voice I don't think the reader gets to know him or sympathise with him very much. In honesty, I did enjoy the book and found the mystery and its conclusion satisfying, but it suffers greatly in comparison to the Falco series which combines impeccable scholarship with a wonderful dry wit and excellently depicted characters about whom I really wanted to read more.
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on February 12, 2002
Steven Saylor's novel is aptly named -- a good deal of Roman blood is indeed spilled when Gordianus the Finder agrees to help a young lawyer named Marcus Tullius Cicero with his first case. Cicero has been hired to defend one Sextus Roscius, accused of killing his father, also named Sextus Roscius. The crime of patricide was punishable by death in ancient Rome, and neither Cicero nor Gordianus wants to see an innocent man executed.
Saylor does a good job of bringing Rome to life; he includes many details, including descriptions of the narrow, winding streets, the oppressive heat of summer, and the intricacies of the Roman legal system, that create a sense of place and painlessly educate the reader. There are only a few places where the description intrudes into the story. Since the story is bound up with the political intrigue surrounding the rule of the dictator Sulla (80 BC), a knowledge of Roman history will help the reader keepthe characters and their motivations straight. Saylor does give an explanation of Sulla's rise to power and the atrocities he and his followers committed, but it comes late in the book and drags on for several pages, so this is not as useful as it could be. Readers not familiar with (or uninterested in) Roman history may have trouble getting into the book, but overall the setting is well-done and convincing.
The mystery aspect of the novel was not as interesting as the historical aspect; the story is slow in places, and it was hard to care about the characters, especially since many of them lack redeeming qualities. Also, Saylor has an unfortunate tendencyto overemphasize key plot points, as if he doesn't want the reader to miss the fact that a certain discovery is a clue. Part of the mystery reader's responsibility is to find the clues on her own; it is the mystery author's job to confuse the reader about what is a clue and what is a red herring. Saylor doesn't seem to have mastered that skill. The end of the novel, which includes the requisite court scene with Cicero making his argument on behalf of the accused, seems to take forever to lumber to a conclusion. Read the book for its setting, but don't expect too much in the mystery department.
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on December 17, 2001
'Roman Blood' is an excellent example of historical fiction where the words 'historical' and 'fiction' are given equal attention. Steven Saylor spins a "whodunnit" mystery based on real events, much like Margaret Atwood does in her excellent 'Alias Grace'. This is unlike the work of Lindsey Davis, an author whose popular Falco mystery series, while in a similar ancient Rome setting, is pure fiction (although the author clearly knows her Roman history).
As for the story, hmmm... it's a bit complicated. Broadly speaking it is about a private eye (Gordianus) who is hired by a defense attorney (Cicero) to investigate the bloody death of a Roman citizen. The victim's son is accused of planning the murder and, if convicted, would suffer a most extraordinarily gruesome execution. In the end we witness the murder trial and its aftermath, both of which are rather ... surprising. Yet before then the reader is taken through the very colorful day-to-day events of Roman high-lifes and low-lifes; I found it all to be very educational, and the murder mystery element is very well presented.
Compared to the works of Lindsey Davis, 'Roman Blood' is somewhat dry - it doesn't contain much humor, and the characterizations, while completely satisfactory, do not sparkle. Yet I actually prefer the work of Steven Saylor because of its historical accuracy and I find his prose to be richer (ie, it feels more like 'literature' versus 'popular fiction').
Bottom line: not quite James Michener material, but nonetheless a very accomplished piece of historical fiction. Recommended.
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on March 28, 2001
One might be tempted to compare the Ancient Rome of this novel to the noir Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy: the tough-but-tender detective on the edge of society; the sweltering Mediterranean climate; the rich folks in the hills lording it over the little people boiling at the foot of the hills; the wealth and decadence; the corrupt officials and back room grabs for power. But this book is so much more than Philip Marlowe in a toga. More than anything else, it is seductive, both in its rich characterizations and in its storytelling. Steven Saylor draws the reader into the world of the Ancient Romans in a sensual way, painting vivid pictures, and strongly bringing that world alive.
Sextus Roscius is murdered, his son stands accused, and Cicero, the man who will become known as the great orator, is a young advocate who takes on the case--the first big trial of his career. He hires Gordianus the Finder, the Ancient Roman equivalent of a detective, to ferret out the truth. This search takes Gordianus on a journey through the political and social intrigues of the day, and through the twisting heart of human nature.
The intrigue is fascinating, the implications profound, there are flashes of wit, and an erotic thread weaving throughout. The relationship between Gordianus and his Hebrew-Egyptian concubine, Bethesda, is funny, erotic, and tender, and provides a wonderful backbone to the book. I finished the novel with the satisfied air of someone who has just read the first great story in a long series and looks forward to a lot of good reading ahead.
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on January 8, 2001
At last a novel that combines the suspense and intrigue of mysteries and the wonderful taste great literature leaves in everyone's mouth. This is a promising series, where life in Ancient Rome is reborn. While we accompany Gordianus around the city and its surroundings, the feeling of "being there" is ever present.
The descriptions of the city of Rome, its corruption, its brutality, make us think about an indelible period of history that shaped the world we live in today. I read somewhere that the romans represent a period of history when men made an attempt to rule themselves but ultimately failed. Well, they might have; but Saylor and his novel are all time winners.
It is true that the title of the novel is a very accurate representation of what goes on into it. There's lots of blood everywhere, and descriptions of death are sometimes gorry. Saylor writes with all his senses. He does what every great writer does: he shows us.
I am more than ever looking forward to further adventures of Gordianus the Finder in Ancient Rome. If it was only even a bit close to this, life in Antiquity must have been fascinating.
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on November 14, 2000
Steven Saylor's historical mystery is a good read for fans of the genre, especially those attracted to Roman history.
This is the story of Gordianus, a finder (private detective), hired by a youngish Cicero who is defending a man charged with the horrific crime of patricide. The more Gordianus delves into the mystery, of course, the more it unravels until it becomes a tale that touches even the emperor himself.
A skilled writer, Saylor takes the reader on a tour through Roman daily life that most will enjoy. His eye for detail is superb, albeit wordy... There are a few occasions where, just as he's picking up the pace, you're thrust into page after page of too-much narrative, as if our narrator Gordianus has all the time in the world to tell his story (which he does not).
By the end, however, Saylor finishes the story with enough flair to make you want to see what Gordianus does on his next case. Luckily, this is just the first of a series of Gordianus the Finder books so the history-mystery fan will be able to sate his desire quickly -- and frequently.
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