Australian Publication Date – 6 March 2018
World Publication Date – 20 February 2018
Steven Saylor’s long-running ancient Roman detective series returns as Gordianus the Finder deals with the most infamous murder in Roman history: the assassination of Julius Caesar.
For decades, Gordianus the Finder has been the most respected investigator in all of ancient Rome. After a lifetime of solving crimes and murders for the city’s rich and powerful, Gordianus is determined to retire from the investigative game and enjoy a life of luxury. However, one last surprise has been thrust upon him: Gordianus’ adopted son Meto has spent years in the service of Caesar as his trusted aid and ghost-writer, and Caesar now seeks to reward Meto by making his father a senator. Reluctantly accepting this rise in station, Gordianus’ ascension will take place in five days’ time, on the Ides of March.
Caesar has an ulterior motive for meeting with Gordianus. Warned by visions and prophets, Caesar believes that his life may be in danger, and that disaster may strike before the conclusion of the Ides. He requests that Gordianus keep his ears to the ground and quietly question leading members of the Roman nobility to see if there is any basis to his concerns. While initially sceptical of any attempts on the dictator’s life, Gordianus’ suspicions are aroused when one of Caesar’s old rivals, Senator Cicero, also asks him to watch out for potential conspiracies. As Gordianus begins his investigation, he finds himself in the middle of dangerous historical events, and even the legendary Finder may be unable to stop what is to come. The Ides of March are approaching, and Caesar’s life isn’t the only one at risk.
The Throne of Caesar is the 16th book in the Roma Sub Rosa series, a series that also includes three prequel novels and two collections of short stories. Saylor began in 1991 with Roman Blood, set in 80 B.C. some 36 years before the events of this book, and he has slowly been working towards the assassination of Julius Caesar. Indeed, the last three instalments of the series were prequels produced while Saylor perfected his account of this famous murder. It was definitely worth the wait, as Saylor has produced an extremely detailed and well-researched account of the infamous killing.
Gordianus’ investigation and social interactions are used to introduce the reader to many of the key people involved with the plot, as well as to discuss the political atmosphere that lead up to the assassination. The Ides of March is the centrepiece of the novel. It is clear that Saylor has consulted the key historical records of the killings, as he has made sure to include several of the lesser-known events that happened on the day. For example, Saylor includes descriptions of the supposed visions Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, had the night before, and Decimus Brutus’ intervention at Caesar’s residence the morning of the Ides. Saylor also dedicates a good part of the book to examining the aftermath of Caesar’s death, including the political manoeuvrings that immediately followed, as well as the violent funeral. As a result, the description of the killings and the surrounding circumstances are first rate, and this aspect of the book will appeal to Roman history buffs.
As Saylor discusses in the author’s notes, writing a murder mystery around the assassination of Julius Caesar is particularly hard, as his death is one of the most well-known events in Roman history, with all the conspirators condemned to historical infamy. Saylor, however uses this to his advantage and manages to create a large amount of suspense by counting down the days until the 15th of March and hinting at the events that are to come. All the reader can do is keep going through the novel, knowing that Gordianus will be unable to stop the murder, even as he gets closer and closer to the truth.
Saylor also compensates for the lack of mystery around the death of Caesar by including a second murder subplot. Elements of this additional murder mystery are hidden in the background of most of the book, as the reader’s attention is directed towards the upcoming assassination, and the investigation into the second murder comes to the fore after Caesar’s death. The actual events of the second murder are unique and will be of particular interest to fans of a certain Shakespearean play.
One of the best features of The Throne of Caesar is the significant incorporation of Greek mythology throughout the book. Several Greek myths are discussed, and parts of the plot mirror elements of these myths. Many of these myths are also included as centrepieces of two Roman epic poems written by Gaius Helvius Cinna, a famous historical poet, which are a major part of the plot. While one of the plays featured is completely fictional and with no historical basis, the other play is Zmyrna, considered by Cinna to be his greatest achievement, the text of which is unfortunately lost to history. Saylor provides an interesting possible narrative for the lost play, which flows into the plot of his mystery with great effect. The overall effect of Saylor including these myths and legends is very striking, and it provides the reader another viewpoint into the lives of the ancient Roman characters who put great stock in these old and religious stories.
The latest addition to the Roma Sub Rosa series is a meticulously detailed and well-crafted book that acts as a unique and powerful chronicle of an important historical crime. A suspenseful and compelling read, The Throne of Caesar serves as a great continuation of the story of Gordianus the Finder, and it will be interesting to see where Saylor takes the series next.