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The Triumph of Caesar by Steven Saylor

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The Triumph of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Post by fljustice » Sat April 9th, 2011, 5:06 pm

I read a Gordianus the Finder mystery a few years ago, but don't remember which it was (there are eleven books previous to this one in the Roma Sub Rosa series.) I do remember mildly enjoying it and the series got a thumbs up from several people on this board in this thread. I picked The Triumph of Caesar out of the bargain bin because I truly enjoyed Saylor's Roma (review here) and thought I'd give this one a shot.

In the beginning of the story, Gordianus has returned to Rome from an adventure in Egypt (which sounded like an interesting book) and is drawn out of retirement by the possibility of an assassination attempt on Caesar and the death of a friend who was investigating that possibility. This could have been compelling, but each chapter seemed to be a character sketch of famous people (Antony, Cleopatra, Cicero, political prisoners, artists and playwrights) Gordianus visits, most of whom he couldn't rule out as suspects. When he does solve the case, it's a ghost (or his dream of a ghost?) that gives him the solution. In the meantime, the reader is subjected to endless descriptions of Caesar's four triumphs. Here's a passage that perfectly mirrored my feelings on slogging through the book:

"For a great many people, I suspect, attending Caesar's fourth and final triumph was done more from perseverance than pleasure. It is a Roman trait--to see a thing through to its end; the same dogged determination that has made us the possessors of a vast empire applies to every other aspect of life. Just as our generals do not raise sieges or surrender on the battlefield, no matter how great the casualties, so Romans do not walk out in the middle of plays, no matter how boring the performance; and those who can read do not begin a book without finishing it. And by Jupiter, no matter how repetitious all the pomp and spectacle, the people of Rome did not attend Caesar's three consecutive triumphs without attending the fourth and final one as well."

I would have made a great Roman.

The research in this book is stunning and the prose spare; but after Roma and Empire, I was very disappointed. Like many long-lived series, this one seems to have run out of steam. It's very hard to keep a series fresh and alive (look at this discussion on Jean Auel's Earth's Children.) This one seems to have run its course: the mystery is dull (we all know Caesar isn't assassinated during his triumphs), the story doesn't progress (each suspect is a suspect until the very end, no one threatens Gordianus) and there's no character development...with one exception. Saylor seems to be setting up Gordianus' daughter Diana to replace him in his Finder business. I think it's time.

The details:
  • Title: The Triumph of Caesar
  • Author: Steven Saylor
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2008
  • Edition: Hardback, 311 pages
  • Price: $24.95
Last edited by fljustice on Sat April 9th, 2011, 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Margaret » Sat April 9th, 2011, 8:37 pm

I would agree that this is probably the least compelling of the Gordianus the Finder series. I reviewed it awhile back at HistoricalNovels.info (see review). While I felt the novel was worth reading, it was more of a travelogue of ancient Rome at triumph time than a mystery. In general, history and characterization tend to be more important in a Saylor mystery than the mystery, but that tilt was a lot stronger in The Triumph of Caesar than it has been in his other mysteries, which generally do have quite a bit of suspense in them. Saylor's big time-sweep novels Roma and Empire were perhaps preoccupying him while he was writing The Triumph of Caesar, and perhaps he just wasn't in mystery mode. Personally, I hope he will get back to mystery mode soon, because I enjoy his mysteries (even Triumph) more than I did the time-sweeps (though there are undoubtedly readers who prefer the time-sweeps). I'm just not a huge fan of time-sweep novels - covering that big a stretch of history seems to inevitably mean making the stories of individuals shorter and shallower.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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