Book Review: A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor

Posted November 4, 2013 by Stormi in Book Reviews / 1 Comment

Book Review: A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor
Series: Roma Sub Rosa, 5
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Published by St. Martin's Press Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Also in this series: The Mayan Secrets, Possession

Once again, Saylor's sleuth Gordianus the Finder is hired by the rich and infamous of Roman society to solve their personal and political troubles.

This time the powerful politician Publius Clodius is murdered (53 BCE) on the Appian Way (a major road leading south from Rome), and as riots break out in Rome at the news of his death, the fate of the Republic is in doubt. All of the major political figures of the time are involved: Pompey (the great), Julius Caesar, Milo, and Cicero, plus any number of lesser figures. Surrounded by intrigue and beset with problems, Gordianus seeks out the unpalatable truth behind this death, and uncovers a complex and dangerous sequence of events.

Also by this author: Rubicon, The Throne of Caesar

Fifth in the Roma Sub Rosa historical mystery series set in ancient Rome and revolving around Gordianus the Finder, senior.

My Take
I definitely should not have read John Maddox Roberts’ King’s Gambit, I when I started this series. It’s got me all confused with the different Milos! I kept expecting Saylor’s Milo to be the same person as Roberts’, which is silly, but, well, there ya go…

The drama swirls around power. Wanting it, having it, getting it back. Gaining power over another. But the underlying theme is one of anger with a man who takes with no consideration for others. Then there are the side notes of betrayal. One will set off the riots and grief, another will destroy a relationship forever while yet another will lead to a new one. And that should be an interesting one to watch in future stories!

I also suspect that the entire series is building toward the end of the Republic. In each story, Saylor is following history and weakening the government and its ability to govern. In this one, Rome can’t even get to its elections, and Pomphey is preparing to take over. Well, it is practical. Rome is almost overwhelmed by mob rule. It’ll be curious to see where we go in The House of the Vestals, 6.

I just how love how well Saylor conveys the feel of ancient Rome, even if it does make my gut clench over some of their behaviors! Gordianus has an interesting take on his world, and he loves and hates it. He adores his family and will do anything to ensure their safety with the women having their own idea of protection. The way Bethesda and Diana, especially Diana!, go at Gordianus, I’m surprised he ever solves any cases.

It’s so impressive reading of these houses! Skylights, heated floors, the bathing pools—in the house! Makes you wish the Romans had survived long enough that the Dark Ages had been able to enjoy such amenities!

The political games these Romans play…makes me wonder how similar our own politicians are. Sure the Romans appear to have been more obvious, and we’re certainly somewhat savvy in our own time. Yet, so many people then and now are still taken in by a politican’s rhetoric. I have to wonder what the bread and circuses of our time are. I did find Saylor’s explanation of the grain dole very interesting; certainly puts a new light on the magnanimous touch of freeing one’s slaves.

Oh, too funny! Gordianus is trying to explain his need for Roman politics to his daughter, and he uses stereotypes as part of his definition: Athenians addicted to art, Alexandrians live for commerce, and the Parthian love for horses. Almost as funny is the number of citizens who are pulling on Gordianus’ toga, each wanting him to investigate Clodius’ murder, and Pompey is the scariest of them!

The levels of political maneuvering are scary and so convoluted. What makes it worse is the physical brutality that comes along with it. Really makes me appreciate our laws, the police, and even our court system.

Oh, man, I wish that Saylor would skip the “temptation” scenes between Gordianus and Clodia. That or rewrite them. They’re just not realistic.

I would like to know why Fulvia doesn’t believe she can trust Marc Antony.

Interesting tale of Milo of Croton, and how Milo has fashioned himself on him.

Crack me up. It’s Davus’ first time on a horse AND into the countryside where there’s all that nothing, eek. Turns out to have been quite lucky that Davus was so inexperienced on horseback, otherwise he might not have made it when events overtook Gordianus and Eco. And yet another event awaits Diana…oops…

Ooh, meow…Caeser makes his displeasure known quite clearly when Gordianus, Eco, and Cicero show up at his camp in Ravenna.

Oh, oh, foreshadowing at its most obvious with that short conversation about Marc Antony’s attraction to King Ptolemy’s young daughter…I suspect we’ll be seeing Cleopatra some stories later.

It’s just appalling to read Cicero’s assessment of the “proper” way to run a court proceeding! I’m glad we’ve changed how this works! Although I do NOT understand what happened to Cicero when he did his summing up??

I did enjoy reading the Author’s Note at the end, especially the bit about Quintus Asconius Pedianus’ study guide which analyzed the Pro Milone in which Saylor explains that it reads “as a sort of precursor to the ‘true crime’ genre”.

The Story
Rioting in the streets brings Eco to his father’s house, and the two walk the streets only to learn that Publius Clodius has been murdered on the Appian Way. His people aren’t known for holding back, and they parade the streets of Rome inciting the mob to riot.

Of all those who want Gordianus to investigate Clodius’ death, it’s Pompey who scares him into action. He, Eco, and Davus set off on the Appian Way to explore the route and the scene of the battle. It’s a lovely trip back in time for us while it’s a most informative trip for our trio.

It’s betrayal and freedom for many with a form of exile for several in the end.

The Characters
Gordianus the Finder is fifty-eight and can’t resist finding things out. Belbo is more of a doorkeeper these days. His daughter, Gordiana, nicknamed Diana, is seventeen now with her own wicked secrets. Bethesda is as lovely as ever, although with a few gray hairs. Eco is Gordianus’ eldest [adopted] son; he’s taken over the majority of the Finding and keeps buying bodyguards. He’s married to Menenia, and they have seven-year-old twins: Titania and TitusMeto, the younger [adopted] son, is serving Julius Caeser who is based in Ravenna in this story.

Publius Clodius Pulcher is Clodia’s younger brother, charming but he takes what he wants. He must believe that he who dies with the most rooms wins. Born a patrician, he disowned his pedigree to become a plebeian. Fulvia is Clodius’ wife; she can’t stand Clodia, and I’m not too sure what she really thinks of Clodius. Sempronia is Clodius’ mother-in-law. Clodia, his sister, is a widow and notorious in Rome for her scandalous dress, affairs, and parties. Metella is her daughter. Appius is their brother’s oldest boy. Sextus Cloelius was Clodius’ strategist: organizing mobs, staging riots, breaking arms, slitting noses. Whatever is needed. Gaius Sallust is a radical tribune elected last year. Gaius Causinius Schola is one of the men who accompanied Clodius on that fateful trip.

Titus Annius Milo is a sometime ally of Pompey and bitterly hates Clodius. For now, he’s plotting with Cicero. Seems Milo was born Gaius Papius and common as dirt. The scandalous Fausta Cornelia, the former dictator Sulla’s daughter, is his wife. Eudamus and Birria are famous gladiators who now work as Milo’s bodyguards. Faustus is her twin brother.

Cicero has rebuilt his house and decorated it lavishly and with taste. Tiro is still his secretary, but he’s been freed. Marcus Caelius is back in alliance with Cicero.

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus is the presiding judge. Cicero and Marcus Claudius Marcellus are Milo’s advocates. Appius ClaudiusPublius Valerius Nepos, and Marc Antony are the prosecutors. Quintus Arrius, a colleague of Clodius, testified about an interrogation.

At Bovillae…
The owner of the inn, Marcus, was killed in the battle, and his wife saw it all. Her sister and her husband have taken over the running of the inn, in trust for Marcus’ son. Senator Tedius is a widower with a middle-aged daughter, Tedia. The Virgo Maxima in the original House of the Vestals is furious with the lousy deal into into which they were forced.

Felix is the priest for the altar of Jupiter that lies along the Appian Way; his sister, Felicia, is priestess for the Good Goddess.

Marcus Aemilius Philemon is part of the group that was hauled off with their hands tied.

At Clodius’ country house, Mopsus and Androcles, two teen stable slaves appear to be all the guard left. They were young Publius’ only friends there, and they protected him. Halicor was Publius’ tutor.

Hypsaeus and Scipio are running in the election and manage to keep getting it postponed. Marcus Lepidus is the first interrex while Rome awaits election results. His wife, Cornelia, is busy setting up her looms as part of ancient custom for her husband’s office.

Gaius Julius Caesar leads the army in Gaul, although he’s currently based in Ravenna. Meto is still much loved. Marc Antony, who’s in love with Fulvia, serves with Caeser and is a friend of Meto’s. (His mother, Julia, married “Legs” Lentulus, see Catilina’s Riddle, 3.) He’s currently married to his cousin, AntoniaCurio was his boyhood lover who may marry the newly widowed Fulvia.

Pompey the Great—he actually expects people to refer to him as “the Great One”! Baby Face is the nickname Gordianus gives the guard who comes to fetch him for Pomp…I mean, the Great One. Pompey was once married to Caeser’s sister, Julia.

Catching up
Marcus Crassus is dead. He was killed the previous spring in Parthia while trying to emulate Alexander the Great. The Parthian cavalry killed him, his son, and 40,000 Roman soldiers and used his head as a stage prop.

The Cover
The cover is blocked out as was the previous story. This one uses the arched bridge and fire from Roman Blood, 1, and a “column” of a Roman statue on the right. A thin black horizontal band provides information while a wider gold band below features the title.

Reviewed by Kathy Davie
The title sums it all up, for it is A Murder on the Appian Way that sets off events.

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