Roman Blood is the first book in Steven Saylor’s long-running mystery series featuring ancient Roman detective Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is like a Roman Sherlock Holmes. He is able to tell people every little detail about themselves after meeting them only once. He lives in a house on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, near a seedy district called the Subura, with his female slave, Bethesda, who is also his lover.
In Roman Blood, Gordianus is hired by Marcus Tullius Cicero, a young lawyer working on his first major trial, for help with his defense of Sextus Roscius, a man accused of killing his father. Gordianus’ investigations take him to Roscius’ family home in Umbria, where he finds that two of his cousins also had reason to hate his father. But he also discovers that the father had been declared an enemy of the state and his property confiscated and sold at a very cheap price to Chrysogonus, the favorite of the dictator Sulla. When he realizes Sulla is involved in the case, Gordianus realizes what danger he’s in. Although he brought peace to Rome after years of civil war, Sulla is a dangerous enemy to have. He has had many of his enemies and political opponents executed. So Gordianus has to decide between getting justice for an innocent man and offending a cruel dictator.
Saylor’s details on life in ancient Rome are excellently done. You feel as if you are wandering the twisted streets of Rome on a hot summer’s day along with Gordianus. The details of the plot take many turns along the way. Roman Blood is full of political intrigue and details on the Roman legal system, all of it fascinating. The story is based on an actual trial, the first major case that Cicero defended before the Roman court. After reading Roman Blood, you will want to read more of Gordianus’ adventures. Saylor’s series is often compared to Lindsey Davis’, but they’re actually quite different. Davis’ series is more humorous. But they’re both very good reads.
Roman Blood is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.