LAST SEEN IN MASSILIA by Steven Saylor (see his website
ROMA SUB ROSA
St. Martin's Minotaur, October 2000
Following an anonymous tip that his son Meto has died in Massilia, Gordianus has braved the Roman civil war to discover the truth. Caesar and Pompey battle for supremacy and the entire world seems swept up in the war. Certainly Massilia (modern day Marseilles but then a Greek colony) is no exception. Having taken Pompey's side, the city is besieged by Caesar's troops, awaiting near certain destruction. As Meto was serving as a double-agent for Caesar, he could have been killed by any number of forces. But his body was never recovered. Gordianus hardly dares hope.
Entering Massilia through a siege tunnel, Gordianus has to learn the truth about his son, but is also confronted with other mysteries. He sees a woman plunge to her death from Sacrifice Rock. Was she pushed, or did she chose this means of suicide? Gordianus is nicknamed the Finder because he cannot help seeking the truth. In times of civil war, though, the truth is likely to be as dangerous as any lie. Soon Gordianus' life is in danger from old and new conspiracies.
Steven Saylor (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by this author) has created a convincing mystery set in one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the world. Skillfully mixing historic with fictional characters, Saylor's Roman world in the midst of its Phoenix-like transformation from Republic to Empire is fascinating. In his search for truth, Gordianus has two allies, his stolid son-in-law, and the witty Greek Hieronymus who has been selected as the scapegoat for Massilia, taking all of the cities sins onto himself. Saylor uses the characteristics of these three to set off the virtues of ancient Rome, and also to contrast with the machinations of the politicians.
Saylor's writing is highly approachable. Even for readers without a great deal of interest in history, this will be a worthwhile read. For those who appreciate both history and Mystery, LAST SEEN IN MASSILIA is a must-read.
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