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Catilina's Riddle

(Roma Sub Rosa #3)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  3,432 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Using scholarly, historical insight, and evocative storytelling that brings to life the glories of ancient Rome, Steven Saylor takes the reader from the bloody lines of clashing Roman armies to the backrooms of the Senate floor, where power-hungry politicians wrestle the Fates for control of Rome's destiny.

With the consular election drawing near, Rome is fiercely divided
Paperback, 496 pages
Published February 18th 2002 by Minotaur Books (first published 1993)
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4.09  · 
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 ·  3,432 ratings  ·  159 reviews

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Shawn Thrasher
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This fourth in the Roma Sub Rosa series is nominally a murder mystery, but it's one of the best pieces of historical fiction I think I've ever read. It's certainly the best so far in this series. As Catalina and Cicero scheme and plot against one another in ancient Rome, they both use Gordianus the Finder - now uncomfortably retired - as a pawn in their political games. A murder mystery also hangs over Gordianus as well - why do headless corpses keep appearing on his country farm? Saylor paints ...more
Oct 05, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in roman history and culture; fans of Gordianus the character
Shelves: mystery
This 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 fa ...more
Moshe Mikanovsky
Another great story telling of Ancient Rome. This one is more about the politics surrounding the Catiline conspiracy (, but Gordianus is still in the game to Find.
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I accidentally read this one before Arms of Nemesis, but thankfully the stories don't follow each other so closely that I was confused reading book #3 without having read #2. I love Stephen Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa books for the completely opposite reason that I love the Brother Cafael mysteries. Brother Cadfael books are a light, fun mystery with just enough of a solid historical setting to make them really interesting to me but never enough history to slow down the story. The Roma Sub Rosa books ...more

Here's the thing. If you're reading something that purports to be a mystery, then you want it to be a bit mysterious. Historical crime fiction that's all history and not much crime makes for a fairly dull read. Saylor is a competent historian who knows all about Ancient Rome and writes decent prose. However, while I learned something about Catilina and Cicero by reading this novel, I didn't care very much about either the real historical figures or the fictional characters.

It was good to share
aPriL does feral sometimes
If the previous two novels in the Gordianus the Finder series have given you expectations of another interesting mystery set in a vividly imagined ancient Rome based on real maps and stories, or its conquered cities, well, this one has reversed the order of what the previous plots stress. 'Catilina's Riddle' is a lot of ancient Roman history and some family drama and a mystery, in that order.

This particular book is set in 63 B.C., and Gordianus is now 47 years old. He is living on an inherited
Dec 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Gordianus calls himself the Finder. We would call him a gumsandal. He helps politicians uncover scandal about their opponents; he helps advocates collect evidence of an enemy's crimes, but he is discouraged that he seems no longer able to serve truth and justice. Rome has become a city of corruption and evil. Fortunately, he has inherited a lovely farm in the country with an adequate supply of slaves to run it.

Such is the setting for Catalina's Riddle. Gordianus has forsaken Rome with its corru
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The third book about Gordianus the Finder ... This time it is about the famous Catilina - whom some regard as a conspirator, others as a victim and others even as a monster.
In this book, the main character (Gordianus) takes a side but the author makes sure that there are plenty of other views expressed as well so as to enable the reader to make up his/her own mind.
Again, Steven Saylor has done a splendid job in making Ancient Rome come to life. There have been quite some chapters in which the co
Catilina's Riddle, the third book in the Roma Sub Rosa series, is way more historical than mystery. It is an excellent read if you like the historical period and if you are interested in Catilina's conspiracy, but it might be disappointing if you are looking for a complex and intricate mystery.

Personally, I really enjoyed it. The second book is still my favourite, but this is close behind.
I adore Saylor's portrayal of Ancient Rome. His research is always evident and accurate; he spends a lot of
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
ok i love this book!!!!!!!! for lots and lots of reasons. here we go

this was actually the first steven saylor book ive read, i skipped the first two in the series to get to this one cause catilina is my favourite ancient roman politician & i had heard good things about this book!! now that ive finished it and enjoyed it so much, i think ill check out some of his others in roma sub rosa

i loved the way the mystery of the headless corpses and the second catilinarian conspiracy were interwoven
John Carter McKnight
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Saylor's first Roma Sub Rosa novel was a loving portrait of ancient Rome wrapped in a mystery plot. The second was more a conventional work of genre fiction. His third does away with mystery-novel conventions almost entirely, to deliver a sprawling picture of rural life along with a deeply challenging and intriguing character study of a figure from Roman history portrayed as a cardboard villain by his successful political opponents.

Catalina's Riddle takes the nature of the reformist politician
The third episode in the series finds Gordianus on a farm in Etruria, a legacy from a friend. He has decided to turn his back on his life of intrigue in Rome, but soon finds life in the country every bit as difficult. Faced with the enmity of his neighbours (relatives of the deceased who had hoped to inherit) and visited by contacts from his past, he finds himself being dragged back to the life he thought he had escaped.

Not my favourite from the series - I didn't really enjoy the farm setting an
Mark Knowles
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I have read a fair bit of Saylor's work and enjoy it immensely. This book, however, isn't his best. 'Murder in the Appian Way' is. There were moments in this one when I really began to feel invested in both character and plot. However, there were too many moments of 'tell' and not enough 'show'. I have read Cicero's 'in Carolinam' speeches quite closely as I have had to teach them. Whilst Saylor has done a reasonable job paraphrasing them in the context of Catiline's plot, they're too static and ...more
Jan 14, 2010 rated it liked it
Rome during Cicero and Caesar's time...lot's of intrigue, waves of manipulating politics (is there any other kind), and a brief brutal battle scene. It was like being dropped into ancient Rome for a few months during a critical election time. The story follows one man and his family as they divide their time between the capital and their farm in the suburbs, both of which provide the setting for conspiracy and murder as "Catilina" vies for a top Senate position. It was an interesting look at a s ...more
Vicki Cline
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman-mysteries
Gordianus' friend Lucius Claudius has died and left Gordianus his farm north of Rome. He thinks he can escape the intrigue and violence of Rome by becoming a farmer, but is persuaded to play host to Catilina because Cicero wants to keep tabs on him. When a couple of headless corpses show up on the farm, Gordianus realizes he can't really escape Rome - it's everywhere. Catilina comes off as a rather sympathetic character, and we don't ever really know if he was the wild revolutionary Cicero accus ...more

Not much of a mystery and I didn't come away with much understanding of Catilina's conspiracy. However, I did learn more than I cared to about Roman farming!

Thank you to my special book Santa!!

Buddy read with Kim :).
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As historical fiction: well researched and evocative.

As a mystery: insubstantial and easily guessable.

Unfortunately, I was reading it for the mystery side, which is better balanced in Saylor's other novels.
Kathy Davie
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, mystery
Third in the Roma Sub Rosa ancient Rome historical mystery series revolving around Gordianus the Finder. It's seventeen years since Roman Blood , 1.

My Take
I have to confess this one was tedious, and I kept putting it down. Although, I did love the sound of his farm and the baths...and Gordianus' library...lovely...

Saylor educates us on the mechanics of campaigning and politics in Rome. And, yes, there's graffiti to protest one candidate or another. It seems the primary purpose of being elected
Though this is not one of the typical Roma Sub Rosa books where a client hires Gordianus to solve a murder or other crime or is still great. This does have a more than just a background of history to a fictional crime so be warned! If you don't find Roman history just as interesting as the solution to the mystery then this probably isn't the book for you. More than most of Saylor's other books Catalina's Riddle stirs up messy emotions for me. I long to get to the solution of at least one of the ...more
Cameron McLachlan
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was ultimately disappointed by this book, despite having read Roman blood and the Venus Throw in 2010. While the narrative is set against the backdrop of the vitriolic struggle between Cicero and Catilina in the late Roman Republic, most of the novel is set in rural ancient Etruria, where the protagonist Gordianus the Finder has inherited a farm. In and of itself this would be an okay jumping off point for further intrigue. However, Steven Saylor seems to be more interested in writing long win ...more
I lik Steven Saylor's (and Lindsey Davis') books because they are a beautiful blend of history and fiction. While this book was simply superb when it comes to the history side it focused on it so much that the mystery/fiction/plot side suffered for it. I knew nothing about Catylina and his plot and I found the story immensely interesting, however I couldn't help but feel the riddle itself is a mere excuse to be throwing Gordianus from one place where he can witness history to another.

I think tha
Cat Sheely
As with the previous two books in this series, Catilina's Riddle is a satisfying 'who done it' with a great deal of Roman history that feels natural throughout. Gordianus is now much older, in his forties, and living on a farm left to him by a mentor and friend. His neighbours are not at all friendly, when he is called upon by Cicero, whom he no longer considers a friend, to spy for him. From there, things go from bad to worse.

The story is wrapped around the Rome of ancient times, it's customs,
Sara G
This one wasn't much of a mystery. The "mystery" was easily solved and pretty transparent, and made me feel a little disappointed that Gordianus the Finder was so easily distracted. What it was, though, was a great historical fiction depiction of Catilina and Cicero battling it out.

The title is perfect, because I don't think it's possible to know who Catilina actually was, given the lack of real primary source information aside from Cicero's diatribes. I thought the author did a great job with t
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gordianus the Finder has retired to the country but is finding that he can’t escape from Roman politics and that life on a rural farm has its own dangers and complexities. Through the machinations of Cicero he becomes embroiled in the conspiracy of Catilina and the mysteries of the book involve both the discovery of headless bodies on Gordianus’s farm and the complexities and motives of Catilina. I’d read the first two books in this series but not been bowled over by them but I loved this one. G ...more
Nicholas Finch
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-reviewed
This book took a very long time to work up to the crisis, but as with all things written by Steven Saylor it was worth the slowly boiling head of steam when the drama began to reach it's climax.

The mystery of the story is interwoven with the mystery - or the 'riddle' - that is Catilina (a man about whom I previously knew nothing whatsoever but whom this book has encouraged me to go read more about), and the epilogue was just perfect, like a cherry on the cupcake.

The path of life and the developm
The Library Lady
I know that Saylor is considered a much more "serious" writer than Lindsey Davis, but I'll take Falco over Gordianus any day of the week. And the key is that Saylor may end up as an "expert" on the History Channel, but his work is often pretty dry and humorless. Davis brings Rome to life, keeping to accurate history, yet with a writing style that lets you see Romans of 2000 years ago as people who might live down the street from you.

I simply could not do more than skim this book. I'll keep goin
Dennis Fischman
May 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I don’t mind that this installment of the Roma Sub Rosa series is more history than mystery. I mind that it’s more talk than action. Long passages of this book are orations before the Roman Senate, some of which our hero, Gordianus, is not even there to hear in person. He’s living out in the country now, which provides the motive for the murders he eventually solves, but it’s a poor vantage point from which to view the Catiline conspiracy. Yet that conspiracy is the core of the story. The myster ...more
Jess Penhallow
I enjoyed this book despite it being less of a mystery than previous books and more straight up historical fiction. The author clearly has such a love for this time period and the characters (real and imagined) within his novels. Rich with detail and constantly intriguing with a wonderful exploration of father/son relationships to boot. It just loses a star for the fact that the mystery took a bit of a back seat.
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was very impressed with Saylor's use of ancient texts and historical detail, and very glad I started with this particular Gordianus the Finder mystery since it cites the oration of Cicero which I read in my final semester of Latin in college. I was also very interested in Saylor's authorial note which points out how one-sided history's version of Catiline is. The more negative impressions of Cicero were also fascinating.
Michael Gallagher
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I am a great fan of Steven Saylor’s books, most especially Arms of Nemesis—though I also love its predecessor Roman Blood. I so looked forward to re-reading Catalina’s Riddle after a gap of about fifteen years, and was surprised to find that—most unusually for Saylor—the characters and storyline felt subservient to the history, and not the other way round. Probably one that’s best left to the fans.
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Steven Saylor is the author of the long running Roma Sub Rosa series featuring Gordianus the Finder, as well as the New York Times bestselling novel, Roma and its follow-up, Empire. He has appeared as an on-air expert on Roman history and life on The History Channel.

Saylor was born in Texas and graduated with high honors from The University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and class

Other books in the series

Roma Sub Rosa (1 - 10 of 13 books)
  • Roman Blood (Roma Sub Rosa, #1)
  • Arms of Nemesis (Roma Sub Rosa, #2)
  • The Venus Throw (Roma Sub Rosa, #4)
  • A Murder on the Appian Way (Roma Sub Rosa, #5)
  • The House of the Vestals (Roma Sub Rosa, #6)
  • Rubicon (Roma Sub Rosa, #7)
  • Last Seen in Massilia (Roma Sub Rosa, #8)
  • A Mist of Prophecies (Roma Sub Rosa, #9)
  • The Judgment of Caesar (Roma Sub Rosa, #10)
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once (Roma Sub Rosa, #11)
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