(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Throughout his Roma Sub Rosa series, Steven Saylor has recreated the turbulent final days of the Roman Republic in such a vivid, immediate fashion that the antique world seems at once intensely familiar and yet utterly strange. His central character, Gordianus the Finder, is a private detective before the fact, a classical Philip Marlowe who lives by his own code of honor and truth despite the corruption of the imperial city around him.

In Rubicon, Gordianus is thrust into a murder investigation in the simplest fashion: the dead man is found garroted in Gordianus’ own garden. The victim happens to be the cousin of Pompey the Great, then locked in mortal combat with Rome’s other great man, Julius Caesar. Seizing Gordianus’ son-in-law as hostage, and noting that Gordianus’ own son is a trusted aide of Caesar, the outraged Pompey demands the Finder solve the murder—and quickly.

As Gordianus follows the case, it proves once again that little is what it seems at first, whether in murder investigations or Roman politics. There are many with motives to have murdered Pompey’s cousin and not all of them are connected with his enemy Caesar. One, in fact, may be the trusted secretary of Pompey’s ally, the famous orator Marcus Tullius Cicero—unless, of course, Cicero himself is playing a double game.

In Rubicon, Steven Saylor has once again fashioned a remarkable recreation of ancient Rome with a twist of modern sensibility. The pace is fast, the history accurate, the characters memorable and the plot intriguing but realistic enough to satisfy even the most demanding reader of the mystery novel, whether set in the sun drenched hills of Los Angeles or the dusty roads of ancient Latium. It is good to have Gordianus the Finder back again, especially when the forum is dark with something more than night.