Friday, December 23, 2016

Steven Saylor - Catilina's Riddle

With the consular election drawing near, Rome is fiercely divided between the conservative Cicero and the tempestuous Catilina, whose followers are rumored to be plotting a blood-thirsty siege for power if their leader fails to win office.
Gordianus the Finder, retired to his Etruscan farm, is happy to be free of the intrigue and danger of the capital, but when his old friend Cicero enlists the Finder in an elaborate plot to control Catilina, Gordianus is drawn back into a familiar world. Now caught in a cloak-and-dagger political struggle for the fate of the Republic, Gordianus finds himself strangely drawn to the controversial candidate. Is Catilina really a subversive renegade, or are Cicero suspicions part of an even greater conspiracy? When a headless corpse ominously appears on his farm, Gordianus knows he must unlock the secret of Catilina's Riddle before Rome tears herself apart.

Comment: Here's another book I "borrowed", meaning I really didn't, it was suggested to me and not to be rude, I said yes. This isn't a genre I usually go to but since I like mysteries and historicals, I thought why not. The problem is who lends me these books never thinks about the order in a series so this is the third book...One can still read but yes, there are many references to previous situations that I'm sure I lost.

In this book we meet Gordiano, a sort of detective who isn't a soldier but has the reputation of using logic to discover mysteries or to solve situations in a way most people wouldn't imagine. Now Gordiano, after years of service, is living in a farm with his family and his slaves when problems come to his door. There's headless body showing up on his well and in Rome, the politics increase when the consular election gets closer. Gordiano is caught in the middle of it because of a favor that he is requested to pay. How can Gordiano solve two problems?

This is the first book by the author that I try. I didn't investigate before starting the book so whatever I might come across would always be a surprise. In the end, I was quite pleased with the story despite certain parts that I found less captivating.
What makes this book good for me, personally, is the family scenes with Gordiano and his wife, daughter and sons and how much affection exists between them all, even if the sons aren't biologically his. Everything connected to who Gordiano is, how he acts, his thoughts and his consideration for justice make him a good protagonist.

What made this less appealing to me was what makes the book what it is, the political intrigues. I confess I wasn't too fond of having to go through the speeches Romans in the Senate and son liked to express and only felt like skipping them. Of course, the intrigue is part of what we think when Ancient Rome comes to out minds but how that was related to Gordiano wasn't that special to me. When the book ended and we got the final resolution of the intrigue I don't really feel I was surprised or captivated by it. I was more bothered by some family stuff between Gordiano and his youngest son to be honest.

The relationships between Gordiano and his family were great points of interest, I liked how Gordiano was fair and how close his family was. I admit I cried when Meto, the youngest son makes a grown up decision and Gordiano tries to stop him but helps him instead out of fatherly love and the conversation they have at some point about this was quite sensitive...I suppose that's not what the author would have preferred a reader to focus on, though!

Also  - and much more - interesting, to me, was the conflicts on Gordiano's farm and home while the plots develops. It seems someone wants him to lose his reputation and his control of the farm and the slaves. This part of the plot was much more interesting to follow and the clues were there but of course, the points are only connected at the end and I was amazed not by why certain things happened but how they were set and put in action.
Within all this, the author always manages to convey Roman customs and cultural experiences, some of them so easily explained and with arguments one can accept, others still difficult to accept (like the notion of slavery but...), although all in all, the author has done a good job explaining and portraying situations that gave veracity to certain actions.

Overall, this was a god stor, I did enjoy reading it despite the less than interesting details/plot moves and I'd read more by the author one day.
Grade: 8/10

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