The Triumph of Caesar

The Triumph of Caesar by Steven Saylor. Whether they are doing the sleuthing themselves or are just a major part of the story, including well-known historical figures can be a double-edged sword for mystery writers. On the one hand, they add authenticity to the atmosphere of the novel and help readers visualize the time and place of the setting. On the other hand, it can open up authors to much criticism from professional historians about events in the plot and how the personalities of the famous are depicted. Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series featuring the fictional Gordianus the Finder during the time of Julius Caesar attempts to avoid these pitfalls while presenting crisply paced adventures.

The eleventh book in the series brings together many of the major figures of Caesar’s time as he celebrates the end of the civil war with Pompey and his triumphs in Gaul, Egypt, Africa and Asia with a series of processions through Rome over the course of several days. During the civil war, Caesar was named Dictator by the Roman Senate, but now wishes to become King, effectively ending the centuries-old republic. He also wishes to change the nature of time itself by introducing a new calendar. Caesar’s skittish wife, Calpurnia, is convinced by her soothsayer and her own dreams that a conspiracy exists to murder her husband during the festivities. When her first investigator, a close friend of Gordianus, is murdered, she brings the Finder out of retirement to uncover the plot. He interviews all those who might have a grudge against Caesar: the old republican Cicero, the senators Antony and Brutus, the mistress Cleopatra, and the prisoners awaiting execution, the Gaul Vercingetorix and the Egyptian princess Arsinoe.

Saylor avoids the easy trap of inserting too much foreshadowing of events. On one occasion he has Gordianus’ daughter caution her father by saying, “If Caesar were to be murdered, the killing would start all over again,” which, of course, is exactly what happened a few years later as civil wars returned after the assassination. On another, he has Antony gaze lustfully at Cleopatra, but given the sometimes playful tone of the book, a few tongue-in-cheek predictions are acceptable. On the other hand, I was disappointed by the mystical element that helps Gordianus unveil the mastermind behind the plot. It seemed quite out of character with the rest of the book and with previous books as well. Overall, I enjoy this series very much, but preferred the previous episode (The Judgment of Caesar) set in Alexandria during the Egyptian internal battle for power.

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