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Roman Blood ()

Roman Blood is the first entry in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series featuring Gordianus the Finder, a kind of Sam Spade for ancient Rome. It finds Gordianus in the employ of Cicero, before he became known as a great orator, who is defending one Sextus Roscius against a charge that Romans found especially appalling, patricide--a case which the real Cicero wrote about. While Gordianus is a man of entirely too modern views--on such matters as slavery, homosexuality and the like--the setting works quite well for the p.i. genre, as there is not just a brutal underlayer of society but a terrifyingly corrupt and arbitrarily violent overlayer, in these late years of the Republic. I happen to have returned to this novel while reading Adrian Goldsworthy's excellent new biography, Caesar: Life of a Colossus. As good as the non-fiction text is, there's one scene in Mr. Saylor's novel that conveys a sense of the horror of the age in perhaps a way that only fiction can. Gordianus witnesses a fire at which Crassus stands poised with his private fire brigade offering to buy the burning house for a fraction of its real worth and save it for himself or let it burn at a total loss to the owner. Regardless of whether Mr. Saylor is always or often giving us the real Rome, moments like that powerfully convey what might otherwise be the fairly dispassionate stuff of ancient history.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Private Eyes
Steven Saylor Links:

    -Steven Saylor (Wikipedia)
    -Gordianus the Finder (Thrilling Detective)
    -EXCERPT: from A Twist at the End by Steven Saylor
    -ESSAY: What Made the Matrons Murder? A Poison Plot in Ancient Rome (Steven Saylor, Mystery Readers)
    -ESSAY: Quo Vadis, HBO? (Steven Saylor)
    -ESSAY: On Big Trucks, Bikes and Bush: Austin's hike and bike trail pulls people, even presidents, back to this city time and again (Steven Saylor, October 12, 2003, SF Chronicle)
    -ESSAY: Know thy subject: Steven Saylor finds it's not what you know but what you'd like to read that inspires you (Steven Saylor, October 5, 2002, The Guardian)
    -SPEECH: COMMENCEMENT 2002 (Steven Saylor, May 17, 2002, Department of Classics and the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley)
    -REVIEW: of Gladiator (Steven Saylor)
    -REVIEW: of Creation by Gore Vidal (Steven Saylor, 1981, The Alternate)
    -ARCHIVES: "steven saylor" (Find Articles)
    -INTERVIEW: Historical Mysteries in Ancient Rome - Steve Saylor Author Interview: "Crossing the Rubicon" (Ellen Healy, Mystery Net)
    -INTERVIEW: Toiling in the Trenches: Steven Saylor tells Sarah Cuthbertson how he unearths murder and mayhem in Ancient Rome (and finds a link to Bill and Monica) (Sarah Cuthbertson, historical Novel Society)
He came late to the mystery genre, discovering Sherlock Holmes at the age of 30 through the television production with Jeremy Brett, 'the quintessential Holmes. I read everything. I spent a whole summer just addicted to that.' A trip to Rome followed soon after. Steven describes it with fond enthusiasm. 'From California, you arrive in Rome so jet-lagged you wouldn't believe it. But, having studied ancient Rome in college, you're so excited to be there. It's 9 o'clock in the morning and you haven't slept for thirty hours. I remember stumbling into the Forum feeling like I was hallucinating, seeing these ruins. That trip was just wonderful.

'So when I got back to San Francisco, I wanted to read classics again. I was interested in mysteries at that point, and the first thing I found in a used bookstore was Michael Grant's translation of Cicero's Murder Trials. I thought, this is going to be perfect - ancient Rome, true crime. The first one I read was the oration on Sextus Roscius, a man accused of murdering his father. It seems straightforward at the start, but it ends up with the dictator Sulla being involved and as they go into higher circles, Gordianus and Cicero are in greater and greater danger the more they find out. I thought, it's like a John Grisham thriller!'

Out of such serendipity was Roma sub Rosa born. But at that stage, Steven had no intention of developing a series. Inspired by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, 'a template of the history-mystery nexus' as he describes it, he thought that like Eco, he had written a literary novel. It sold well in the States, but he was taken aback when his publishers asked for a sequel. 'Then I thought, what an opportunity they're offering me here. I couldn't ask for a better field, more wonderful material. The murders, the trials, would all come very easily. So I thought it wasn't such an unreasonable request - I myself always wanted more from authors I liked. It was an honour, actually.'

Where did Gordianus come in?

'I wrote the first 60 pages of Roman Blood, the first draft, with Cicero as the narrator, but after researching his character, I realised that to spend 24 hours a day with him was going to be an ordeal. And having him as the sympathetic narrator wouldn't have worked for the whole series. I needed another point of view, so I had him bring in Gordianus as a detective. There's no real record of detectives in ancient Rome that I know of, but it does make sense that in the litigious late Republic there would be independent agents who were skilled at digging up dirt, such as Gordianus. And he's not a patrician. If he were part of that upper class, he'd have all sorts of prejudices and links to other people. So he's the outsider, able to see everything from a distance.'

    -INTERVIEW: Roman Holiday: A Chat with Steven Saylor (Kilian Melloy, Jun 30, 2005, EDGE)
    -INTERVIEW: Steven Saylor Interview (, May 13, 2004)
    -ESSAY: These Sleuths Sport Togas, Wield Swords, Visit Bull Run (David Lazarus, November 5, 2000, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Top 7 Steven Saylor's Historical Mysteries (N.S. Gill,Your Guide to Ancient / Classical History)
    -REVIEW: of Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (JP, Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Roman Blood (William Peschel, Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Roman Blood (James J. O'Donnell, Bryn Mawr Classical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Arms of Nemesis by Steven Saylor (Jennifer Monahan Winberry, Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Arms of Nemisis (David Dawson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Murder on the Appian Way by Steve Saylor (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Murder on the Appian Way (Richard Dyer, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Rubicon by Steven Saylor (Jane Jakeman, The Indepenent)
    -REVIEW: of A Mist of Prophecies by Steven Saylor (CLAY SMITH, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor (Phyllis Davis, Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen in Massillia by Steven Saylor (Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian )
    -REVIEW: of The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor (Jim Mann)
    -REVIEW: of Honour the Dead by Steven Saylor (Peter Gutteridge, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Honor the Dead (Charles mitchell, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry by Steven Saylor (CLAY SMITH, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF ROMAN WHODUNNITS Edited by Mike Ashley (Ayo Onatade, Shots)


    Roman Blood (1991)
    Arms of Nemisis (1992)
    Catalina's Riddle (1993)
    The Venus Throw (1995)
    A Murder on the Appian Way (1996).
    Rubicon (1999).
    Last Seen in Massilia (2000)
    A Mist of Prophecies (2002).
    The Judgement of Caesar (2004)

Book-related and General Links:

    -The Cicero Homepage
    -Cicero (1911 Encyclopedia)
    -Marcus Tullius Cicero (Encyclopaedia Brtannica)
    -ARCHIVES: cicero (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt (Jeff Greefield, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician By Anthony Everitt (T. Corey Brennan, NY Times Book Review)