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    Review of RUBICON by Steven Saylor


    Minotaur, May, 2010 (Original edition May 1999)

    Caesar has crossed the Rubicon and the powers of the Roman Senate are in an uproar. When a messenger and relative of Pompey is found assassinated on the property of Gordianus, the Roman general gives Gordianus a simple choice--find the killer or never see his son-in-law again. With Rome deserted by its Consuls (legally, one of them is supposed to be in the city at all times), with Roman armies marching against Roman armies, and with most of Rome's power-brokers outside the city, this doesn't seem a good time to conduct an investigation and Gordianus discovers this is the case. He does catch one break--Cicero's assistant (and maybe spymaster) is not ill in Greece as claimed, but is in Rome. He takes Gordianus on a journey to southern Italy where Caesar has laid siege on Pompey and where Gordianus hopes to rescue his son-in-law.

    The late Roman Republic is a fascinating period filled with names who still resonate through history... Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Cicero, Marc Anthony, Brutus and Cleopatra--all battling to create something new out of the dying republic. Author Steven Saylor (see more reviews of novels by Saylor) gives us a view of the complexity of the time--a time when it seemed that anyone could become Imperator and rule Rome and it's empire. As with all of his books, Saylor writes with an approachable style and engages the reader with a mix of historical greats and everymen trying to survive while the elephants of the day trample.

    RUBICON is a strange mystery partly because Gordianus doesn't actually do much detecting. Much of the novel consists of his journey through Italy where he meets Cicero, Marc Anthony, Caesar and finally Pompey. Much less involves his searching for clues, interviewing suspects and witnesses, or chasing after red herrings. I found the resolution to be both thematically consistent with the horrors of civil war and also frustrating. Mystery writers want a positive resolution, one that seems to indicate that the world has been set right. Of course, this is difficult to do at a time when one man is prepared to set aside the ancient constitution and put himself at the head of state as a dictator.

    RUBICON is an important part of Saylor's Gordianus series but I certainly wouldn't recommend starting with this one. Some of his other stories far more closely resemble the traditional mystery and provide a better way of getting one's feet wet in Saylor's Roman universe.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/17/11

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