This is the longest, densest, and oddest of the Roma Sub Rosa series. It contains relatively little dialog, much introspection on the nature of RomanThis is the longest, densest, and oddest of the Roma Sub Rosa series. It contains relatively little dialog, much introspection on the nature of Roman politics and Roman virtue, detailed accounts of the processes of Roman government and legal life (voting, debate in the senate, the extremely detailed and obscure campaign laws, coming-of-age ceremonies, process and applications of augury, etc.), and Hamlet-like vaccilation over whether Gorianus, as pater familias is doing the right thing by his family and raising his son Meto properly.
What Catalina's Riddle doesn't contain, however, is a mystery. Technically, there is one: across 500 pages we have three bodies left on Gordianus' farm, clearly intended as a threat of some sort. It gets mentioned every few chapters. Gordianus doesn't do any actual "finding" (his word for what we'd call "detecting") until the last few pages of the book, after the real story is over.
The real story in the book is the Cataline Conspiracy. It's one of the most famous, fascinating, and important events in all Roman history. One can even make a clear argument that it's the no-turning-back point in the collapse of the Republic. Plus, it has some of the most wonderful muck-raking in history. Cicero's nasty hyperbole about the co-conspirators (gathering to drink blood, plotting to kill people in the night to incite revolution, killing husbands to seduce wives and extract their money, etc.) is matched only by Cicero's peacock-proud parading of himself as the only true servant of Rome.
If you want a readable account of the conspiracy (Sayler has never been a Cicero apologist, so expect a sympathetic view of Catalina's motives, if not his actions), a good account of details of Roman life (including some harsh observations on the Roman ideal of country living), some good observations on Roman morals, and a great time with the Gordianus family, it's a great book. The history lessons are a bit excessive, but never go on too long. The navel-gazing gets a bit much at times, but that has always been a trait of the character. There isn't nearly enough Bethesda, although we get a *lot* of just-of-age Meto and his trying to find his own way in the world, being unsuited to following in his father's and Eco's footsteps and his family not understanding what he truly wants to do.
If you only want the mystery, skip to the next book. It makes what happened clear enough (you really just need to know where Meto wound up and that's abundantly clear when you need to know it). But be warned, from this point on the series gets more political and introspective. The action level does pick up a lot, though. ...more
If you haven't read any of Steven Saylor's novels about Gordianus the Finder, these short stories would be an uneven introduction. Go read one of theIf you haven't read any of Steven Saylor's novels about Gordianus the Finder, these short stories would be an uneven introduction. Go read one of the other books first. Or get someone to pick the stories that will be most appealing and rely least on knowing the characters already.
If you are already a fan of Gordianus, these stories are loads of fun. They are more in the "old detectives reminiscing about cases" tradition than the novels are, which might put some people off. Several stories are told by Gordianus to his friend Lucius Claudius (who figures into several of the books in odd ways) and includes a nice tale of Gordianus' life in Egypt before he met Bethesda and one is told by Bethesda to Gordianus, even.
But the most important is the last one: The House of the Vestals. We have been teased with this story through book after book--how did Claudi come to be charged with despoiling a vestal virgin, how did he escape the charge, and what did Gordianus have to do with it? This story reveals what happened, at least from the things Gordianus knows or can suspect.
Even leaving as much left unanswered as you would expect it to, it's worth the price of the book along.
Of course, as with all Roma Sub Rosa books there is an afterward with historical information, references, and explanations of what liberties have been takes with people, places, and myths. These are a large part of the fun of the books.
For the stories themselves, I'd give 3 stars, but for the impact that the story of the vestal virgin has on the series and the interesting questions it leaves open, I have to bump this up to 4....more