Monday, May 9, 2011
I'm quite good at starting the review of a series with the most illogical item. So, keeping up with a good tradition, A Murder on the Appian Way is the fifth volume in Steven Saylor's “Roma Sub Rosa” series.
I've been meaning to write about the Roma Sub Rosa series for some time now, as it stands out from the dozens of whodunits placed against a historical background due to the impressive research work and accurate re-creation of the Roman world in the troubled moments when the republic was about to become an empire.
Argh, who am I kidding? If you like the historical mysteries genre, you'll like them all, and you must try Saylor's series.
The main character, Gordianus the Finder, is more realistic than his detective counterparts from similar books – wiser, kinder, more mature. Since he's not part of the nobility, his family, his home and his habits provide a believable reconstruction of the daily life of the regular people, in contrast with the unavoidable descriptions of the properties of the rich and famous.
That being said, I'm not sure I like Gordianus. He's old, happily married with children, which is not at all my idea of a mysterious, sexy, adventurous private eye. (Yes, it's a cliché. Go read Dostoevsky if cliches bother you that much.)
The murder on the Appian Way is that of Clodius, and Saylor takes the opportunity to recreate in detail the most famous of the famous Roman roads. This is one of the highlights of the novel, along with the delicate study of mob control techniques – not that different back then from what they are now. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Cicero, very close to how I imagined him, and not so much that of Clodia – but this is mostly my problem, Clodia keeps popping up in every book I've been reading recently, and she's so not worth all the hype.
If the historical part of the book is brilliant, I can't say the same for the mystery part, which was a bit disappointing. The action drags along at times, and the murderer is... well, go read it and judge for yourselves. A Murder on the Appian Way did not make it in my personal top ten, but it was definitely worth my time.